“How do you make holy water?” Victor’s [Fetch] asked the original. “You boil the hell out of it!”
Sitting on a tooth chair next to a tongue-shaped table, the Vizier raised his eyes from his scrolls and maps to look at his clone, who expected approval. Cait Sith was sleeping on a cushion in a corner, having been granted milk and a steady supply of food for his help in reaching Odieuse’s lair, while blood boiled inside the [Black Grail] nearby.
Victor would rather have reached Crom Cruach already, but it would take some time before all of their allies could mobilize; knowing the fairy queen, she would launch everything she had at them, and even Vainqueur understood he needed all the help he could get. They couldn’t afford to retreat this time.
For if they failed, there wouldn’t be a world left to save.
“I don’t think her mother will like it,” the [Reaper] admitted. “Even if she’s opposed to political correctness in Happyland, Isa will be offended.”
“Hear me out, I got a better one,” the fetch coughed, before unleashing the bomb. “If a child refuses to sleep during nap time, are they guilty of resisting a rest?”
The ‘wooden’ house they inhabited seemed to groan, and it probably did.
A bat took the opportunity to enter through an open window. The V&V army had set up a night camp outside as they made their way through Prydain’s western borders.
“Victor, what are you doing?” the bat asked him, before shapeshifting into Charlene. She must have returned from her latest mission, scouting the fairies’ territories to prevent ambushes.
“Practicing dad jokes for Braniña’s birth,” Victor explained, the [Fetch] unmoved by the lack of warm reception from his audience. “And learning Tier X magic.”
“Babies?” a voice echoed into the house, startling Charlene.
“Not yet,” Victor replied. Since Junior had evolved into a [Mimic Witch Hut], the Vizier had turned his former pet into a walking command tent. Not only was it an excellent defense, but the creature’s [Witch’s Lair] Perk cut the SP cost of all spells cast within in half. Perfect to practice new magic.
Unfortunately, the house had a kid obsession that rivaled Victor’s own.
That came out wrong, the Vizier thought, while Charlene sat at the edge of the table, a leg over the other. With this pose, she looked like some Twilight vampire commercial. “What kind of spells can you cast now?” she asked Victor. “Having seen what Tier IX spells can do, I can scarcely imagine Tier X’s potency.”
Neither did Victor until he laid his eyes on these scrolls.
Tier X spells were as absurd as they were rare. Since very few spellcasters reached that level, only a few spells of that level had been discovered. Thanks to the gods backing him up, Victor had managed to get his hands on a handful of them, and even then he lacked the specializations needed to cast the best ones.
“[Idoun],” Victor read a scroll to Charlene. “Grants a target one thousand years of eternal youth. [Red Moon], Tier X [Ritual] exclusive to Moon Man worshipers and Claimed, causes a lunar eclipse driving everyone seeing the Moon to [Madness] for a single night. [Private World], folds an area of space into a private world. [King In Yellow], Tier X [Performance], summons the eldritch deity Hastur to destroy a city...”
“You can grant eternal youth on demand?” the vampire asked, immediately sensing an opportunity. “You could sell that service to fund the war budget.”
“Our finances and supply lines are that bad?”
“Not as bad as I thought," she said. "Minions have been a lot more productive since Vainqueur raised them, and our beloved dragon keeps piling up new items.”
The [Hoard Armor] was truly a modern cash machine. Almost every creature Vainqueur killed dropped something now.
“But I wouldn’t wish for the war to last long," the vampire said, "Our monstrous troops are clearly better at taking positions rather than holding them, and a prolonged conflict will cause our war effort to collapse on itself. In particular, while powerful, our dragon allies are a logistical nightmare when it comes to feeding.”
“It won’t last more than a week.” Either Odieuse would blow them all up, or they would kill her first. “What is the situation on the front?”
“According to Kia, Gardemagne’s army should join with ours in two days, in time to cross the sea between Prydain’s eastern and western islands,” the vampire explained. “We will come into sight of the western sea tomorrow. On the bad side, Grandrake and Jolie’s forces have been delayed. I heard they encountered heavy resistance.”
“Anything we should worry about?” Vainqueur would be willing to abandon everything to rescue his niece, even if Buzz Jelly and the Kobold Rangers had been assigned to her protection.
“I sent Jules to help,” she replied. “And their group has a Tarasque. They will be fine.”
“Charlene, we can’t solve all our problems by throwing a Tarasque at them,” Victor replied, the vampire smiling. "Any sign of the submarine?"
"No," she shook her head, "Nor of Akhenapep, or any fomor lord."
Victor had the distinct feeling they were about to face a marathon of harsh battles very, very soon. “Unfortunate, but still, good job. Information is key to victory, and your intelligence so far is top-notch.”
“Thank you,” she said, happy to have her work recognized. “Also, I appreciated you convincing Vainqueur to give us a raise. Now I have so much money, I don’t know what to do with it if we win this war.”
“Gamble it away? Please just find a new hobby other than ruining Croissant’s life.”
“He doesn’t need my help for that,” she replied, although clearly unhappy with the compromise Victor forced her into. “You promised me a three weeks of vacation a year and that you would spend more time with me if I dropped my vendetta; so far I see none of these promises fulfilled. I feel betrayed.”
“We’re at war,” Victor pointed out.
“I know, we’re both busy,” Charlene said. “But we could take the evening to relax. Neither of us may be there to enjoy a moment in the future.”
“I don’t intend to die, and neither do you,” Victor said.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” she replied. “You and Vainqueur are on your way to godhood; if you save the world, what could come afterward?”
“Vainqueur and I swore to become gods together,” Victor said. “But I never thought it would be possible for us to actually reach it; it sounded like another pipe dream to me. I mean, didn’t it take Mithras decades to reach level 99?”
“I heard it took Sablar two years to ascend, although he destroyed a few countries and islands to do so. I’m pretty sure he’s half the reason for the once-extinction of the [Exp Dodo].”
“Oh, then we aren’t treading on new ground,” Victor deadpanned, the vampire chuckling. “I haven’t given it much thought. I always figured Vainqueur and I would scrape together a solution at the last minute.”
“You should plan for this eventuality,” the vampire replied. “This empire will collapse without the two of you, and no god has ruled a country directly since Mithras. Most [Epic] level people die either trying to become a god or dying to other [Epic] level people trying to reach level 99.”
Yeah, after so many exp plateaus, fighting other [Epic] adventurers was one of the few ways left to reach Valhalla besides Dodocide. Maybe this was why Akhenapep had joined with Odieuse, for the chance to end the world and ride a tide of blood all the way to Valhalla. “You worry about my safety, Charlene?”
“I do,” she admitted, although she made it sound like she didn’t care all that much. “You’re the only person who can manage this mess of a country. All I’m saying is… please have a back-up plan.”
Victor crossed his arms, thoughtful. “I’ll think about it.”
“Yes, do,” she said before shapeshifting into a mist and leaving him alone.
Soon after she did, his [Black Grail] finished restructuring the blood within its cup.
“Hey,” Victor called out to Cait Sith. “Hey, cat!”
“What?!” the fomor growled angrily, his nap interrupted. In spite of his fairy nature, the creature behaved like a housecat in almost everything.
“Can I ask you for a service?” Victor asked. “About the war?”
“I told you, Mell Odieuse can close my fairy rings the second I open them. I will bring you as close I can, but afterward, you are on your own.” The cat meowed and rested on the cushion. “I died too many times already, I am not risking my neck for you mortals.”
Victor could relate, somewhat. “I just need information, and only a tiny little bit of work on your part.”
“Oh, I see where this is going.” The fomor a bit offended that a lowly half-dragon would ask anything of a cat. “You want me to teach you the secret of my nine lives?”
Could he even do that? Thanks to [Monster Student], Victor could learn Perks from monsters, even if he didn’t suffer the attack first. In particular, Barnabas had taught him [Troll Regeneration] by healing the Vizier the ‘troll way.’
Victor would have loved to learn the Tarasque’s regeneration—which would probably make him invincible—but the beast lacked the higher understanding necessary to teach it, let alone understand classes and level-up. This may have been a blessing in disguise.
Gods, an intelligent Tarasque [Wizard] would be terrifying.
“I already have a revival method of my own,” Victor said, proud of his black cup. “No, I have something else in mind.”
“What do I get in return?” the cat replied, brazenly scratching his tummy. “I am a feline. I am not like you manlings. My evolved, immortal body needs eighteen hours of sleep to work, and you’re delaying my rest.”
Victor summoned a bright ball of red yarn in his hand.
The fomor looked at the item with big, fascinated eyes. “Give it to me,” the cat ordered Victor like a petulant child, extending his tiny paws. Of course, the fairy was too lazy to actually rise up from his cushion and take it by force. “Give it to me, manling!”
“Why does your kind follow Odieuse?” Victor asked, dangling the yarn ball in front of the critter.
“Because they want the power of a Soulcrest,” the cat replied with a sarcastic, condescending tone as if talking to a slow child. And people wondered why Victor hated cats. “It’s not like dragons will give us their blood willingly.”
Won’t they? The more he thought of it, the more Victor was convinced dragons and fomors had some sort of symbiotic relationship at one point; their innate magic seemed to complement each others too much, even if wyrms had forgotten their own.
Heck, from what he had seen, their blood was even of the same color. Coincidence?
“The good thing is,” Victor said, taking out his homemade [Soulcrest] out of the Black Grail. “I’m half-dragon.”
His creation was only a third of the size of Mag Mell’s but should work the same. Even Cait Sith instantly recognized its power.
“My [Black Grail] can produce black blood with the same properties as a true dragon’s humors,” Victor explained. “As long as the artifact remains, you fomors can gain souls without killing anyone, or owing anything to Odieuse.”
“What do you want me to do with it?” the fomor asked, his playfulness replaced with seriousness.
“I want you to spread the word to your kindred, to anyone who has doubts about this war or Odieuse’s genocide. Those of you with souls, and thus a conscience; and those who don’t have a soul yet, but are pragmatic enough to understand that this crusade will only end in our mutual annihilation. Carry the word and show them this crest, and tell them there is another way. She isn’t your only choice and never was.”
“Why are you doing this, manling?” the fairy cat asked, genuinely puzzled. “My kind did terrible things to yours.”
“Because I believe people can change, and that all species can coexist together if they make the effort,” Victor said. “Vainqueur and I, we created a place where monsters can live together. In time, through trade and diplomacy, they will truly coexist with humans too. I truly think this is the only way to break this cycle of war.”
“It’s too late,” Cait Sith shook his head with resignation. “Your kind will never forgive us. They will not move past centuries of death and oppression. I’ve seen it, meow. Your people hate us.”
“I think they can move on with time,” Victor said. “Not all of them, because people are complicated and old grudges die hard. But I think most will give peace a chance. If you take a stand.”
Germany had done terrible things under the Nazi regime, but the country reformed itself and helped foster peace in Europe for decades. Maybe Victor was mistaken in his hope things could improve… but he would never forgive himself if he didn’t at least try.
Cait Sith remained silent for a long, long while. “You are naive, manling,” he finally spoke up. “Your idea is doomed to fail.”
“You said your fellow followed Odieuse because she could offer them power.”
“But they would kill your kind for free,” the cat replied. “They hate you with a passion because you mortals are weaker than us and yet you bested our kind many times. My uncatlike fellows have fed on their hatred for more time than it takes for your kingdoms to rise and fall; souls helped them change, but not that much.”
“You think Odieuse has more willing supporters than unwilling?”
“Yes. And even if you manage to kill the fairy queen, they will never stop trying to wipe you out.”
He had a point, unfortunately. If anything, gaining a soul had made the Mell Clan even crueler. For each Wotan or Jack, there was a Hamelin; change had to be a choice, and not all fomors were willing to make it.
But still, between trying to make peace and total genocide… Victor would always choose the first. Even Vainqueur had come around to believing peace was possible, and the Vizier trusted his friend.
Somehow, that dragon would change the world.
“But you will still try my idea?” Victor asked the cat. "Even if you don't think it will work?"
“Yes, meow. I will. For the yarn.”
Victor tossed it to the cat, who began to spin it with giddy abandon.
As a wise man once said, Alea Iacta Est.
“Hey, I got a good one,” the [Fetch] suddenly said, having a eureka moment. “How do you call me when I’m wearing a crown and a [Belt of Genderbending]?”
… oh no, please no.