They gave him a lead plate tag with his name on it. Him. Like he was some mammal.
“This is degrading!” Vainqueur complained to his loyal lackey Victor, as they flew above the farmlands of Carabas. The news had put him in a foul mood. “Lead? Lead!”
“Every adventurer starts with a lead plate,” Victor explained, the wind in his face causing his lips to move in ways Vainqueur found distracting. “That’s the ranks. Lead, copper, iron, bronze, silver, gold, and starmetal. I’m a lead adventurer too, Your Majesty.”
“But you are a manling!” Also, why the adventurer guild put that greenish unshiny starmetal higher than brilliant gold, Vainqueur would never understand. “I am a dragon. Can you manlings fly? Can you breath fire that melts stone? Can you live forever? No, so why is that not enough for gold?”
“You are a unique case, Your Majesty,” minion Victor tried to assuage his wounded pride. “Forgive my poor species, who does not know how to deal with you.”
“Just this once!” Vainqueur said, flying over a vast forest, smelling the presence of trolls, slimes, and other beasts below. Birds and harpies flew away in fear at his arrival. “Are these the troll woods?”
“Yes, Your Majesty. Trolls usually live in caves, if we look for one—”
“Minion, I will not sully my peerless scales with some troll’s dung. I am a dragon, remember?” Vainqueur took a long, deep breath, and then dived towards the woods. The forge in his stomach lit up, the infernal power within turning the air into flames.
The great calamity unleashed his mighty dragonfire upon the forest, a torrent of bright, nearly white flames incinerating trees, animals, everything; Vainqueur flew in a straight line around the forest, intending to make a full ring of fire and trap the trolls – and whatever creatures unlucky enough to live with them – within.
Victor screamed in surprise, held close to Vainqueur’s own maw. “Your Majesty, what are you doing?!”
“Fulfilling your kind’s request,” Vainqueur replied, after taking back some breathe and preparing for a second round. Thanks to the wind, the inferno spread through the forest far north, turning trees to candles and grass to embers.
Vainqueur dove again through a cloud of smoke, much to his minion’s terror, smelling trolls below. A bunch of these savage, green-skinned giants attempted to flee the coming flames, only for the dragon to bombard them, spitting his fire in the shape of fireballs instead of a continuous stream. The projectiles exploded on contact with the ground, vaporizing the beasts, blasting the dirt and forming craters.
Congratulations! You gained a level in [Noble]!
+30 HP, +1 INT, +1 LCK!
Vainqueur awaited the declaration of a new Perk, but nothing came up. Maybe he hadn’t burned the place enough. The forest bordered several hills forming a natural frontier, and so Vainqueur bombarded this area too, intent on devastating the entire forest instead of just the troll’s lair.
After a few minutes of firebombing the land, Vainqueur finished remaking the Woods of Gevaudan into a nice, smoking hellscape. “There, troll problem solved!” Vainqueur said, happy with himself. “All we need is to claim the reward now!”
“Your Majesty, can I…” Victor pleaded, the ash-filled wind making him scoff, “Your Majesty, flight is terrible when you hold me in your palm. Especially when you breathe dragonfire down my neck.”
“This must be your lack of scales,” Vainqueur said. “I empathize with your situation, I truly do, but what can I do about this birth defect?”
“Can I… can I… can I ride on your back instead?”
Vainqueur looked down on his insolent lackey. “Minion, what kind of ungrateful demand is that? Have I not given you an honest occupation? When I found you this morning you were but a mere thief, purposeless, adrift. Now you are chief of staff. My chief of staff. Do not demand too much.”
Victor sighed at his master’s scolding. “I guess at least I got a level out of this.”
“You did?” Was that not payment enough?
“Yeah, I got a level in Monster Squire when you made me your ‘chief of staff,’ and now I got another. I didn’t even know this class existed.”
“What is a squire? A manling term?”
“It’s, uh, the apprentice of a knight or a noble. They help them get ready for battle, do menial chores for their boss, learn the tricks of the trade…”
“Ah, yes. A minion.”
“Yes, it pays just as much.”
Of course, the manlings would copy this honorable dragon institution. They learned from the best. “I did not get a perk this time, which I find confounding.”
“It’s only one per two levels, Your Majesty.”
“Who decides that?”
“The gods, I think. Or maybe the Fomors.”
“These good for nothing upstarts? They always claim they made the world when everyone knows dragons did it first. Tell me where I can find and reprimand them.”
Victor gave him a strange, incredulous look. “Reprimand the… I don’t know Your Majesty, I’m not a religious guy. Maybe we could ask a bishop.”
“We will after you climb down and recover what is mine.”
“After I what?”
“According to this Old Money Perk , the trolls below should drop treasures when they die. You do not expect me to get down and sully myself with ashes?”
Victor glanced down at the fiery crater below them, then back at his master. “Your Majesty, I am not immune to fire.”
Not immune to—ah yes, he had forgotten. By the elder wyrm, how could the manlings avoid extinction so far? “We will delay my gratification after the fires die down,” Vainqueur said. “After we obtain restitution for your previous employer’s crime.”
“Sure, sure, if we could just land somewhere safe so I could look at the map…”
No wonder that Marquise lowered herself to hire thieves. Vainqueur too would be bitter at living in a palace with only one tower.
And one on such a small hill at that. The female manling must seethe in jealousy upon seeing Vainqueur’s own lair, made of the world’s tallest mountains. That castle had little stone walls, overseeing villages from above its mound, and manned with manlings equipped with bows and arrows. They had fired a few of these toothpicks as Vainqueur and his minion landed on their front door, with the dragon retaliating by tossing a few of the primates on the ground with his tail. After they stopped, Vainqueur had patiently waited for them to bring their master for a civilized chat.
The castle overflowed with the smell of cats and felines, including lions, tigers, and even a sphinx, according to Vainqueur’s nose. A flag representing a cat with boots stood at the summit of the tower, much to the dragon’s amusement.
Maybe they had good knights? It had been a while since Vainqueur hadn’t lived up to his name.
“I have been wondering, minion, what does Marquise mean in your language?”
The minion finished stretching his legs, happy to be back on his feet. “That means she’s a noble lady. Don’t ask me where she ranks in the kingdom’s hierarchy, I just know she’s above the count that put the request for the trolls.”
A noble lady? Vainqueur’s head perked up, his Princess Sense stirring. “Is she a princess?”
“A princess? I don’t think so, no. Why?”
Disappointing. “Old habits.”
The manling’s tiny eyes blinked. “Does Your Majesty kidnap princesses?”
“Sometimes, mostly elves,” Vainqueur said, fondly remembering that particular hunting season he snatched the only elven princess of the current generation before his rivals. He had bragged to his fellow dragons for centuries afterward. “This is a very popular sport among dragonkind, since the black dragon Grandrake ransomed the manling Princess Genevieve a thousand years ago. Maybe I will take you minion on a hunting season someday.”
“Do you…” His minion hesitated, as if afraid of the answer, “Do you eat them?”
“Of course not, do you take me for a savage? I release them back in the wild when I get bored of their whining.” Or when he ran out of the food he had stored to keep them alive.
As if hearing their conversation, a chubby, two-legged cat the size of a manling joined the soldiers on the walls, wearing emerald and gold jewelry that Vainqueur immediately thought would look great atop his hoard; so would her golden fur. Two pretty manling maidens attended the cat, looking fearfully at Vainqueur.
Apparently, the owner wasn’t a manling, but a catkin. “What business have you here, threatening my castle, dragon tamer?” the cat, Marquise Louise, asked the minion.
Vainqueur couldn’t help but laugh. Humans, taming dragons? “I think you got our relationship backward!” Victor shouted back with modesty.
“I tamed him,” Vainqueur made a face. Even if that talking cat was probably the Marquise, she didn’t smell like a princess. She didn’t even smell like a virgin! Not worth adding to his hoard. Still, since she was noble blood, Vainqueur deigned answer directly. “I am Vainqueur Knightsbane, King of the Albain Mountains, great calamity of this age! You sent ruffians after my silver rapier treasure, interrupting my long nap. I thereby demand half your cattle as restitution for the trouble caused, alongside the one thousand gold coins you offered for my possession.”
“Half the cattle in my marquisate?” the catkin asked with her shrill, insolent voice. “This is preposterous!”
“I had to fly two hours to get here,” Vainqueur emphasized his pain, “Two. Hours. I burned pounds of fat and smelled the dung of your peasants coming to this place.”
“Also, Your Majesty burned the local woods coming here!” minion Victor shouted to the Marquise. “On request of the Count of Provencal!”
“Who owes me six thousand golden coins for this service!” Vainqueur pointed at the lead tag around his neck with his claw. “See this tag? I am an adventurer! The greatest your puny race has ever known!”
“Certainly, Your Majesty,” Victor said. “Certainly.”
The marquise let out a hiss as she squinted at the lead tag, then turned to whisper at one of her manling knights. “Bring me Count Gilbert for an explanation,” Vainqueur heard her say thanks to his good ears, before she turned to the dragon. “If I give you what you want, you will leave my lands at once?”
“That depends, do you have more quests for me?” Vainqueur asked, eager for more gold.
“No, no, we do not,” the marquise declared with haste.
“Also, if you have a Bishop on hands, Your Majesty has theological questions!” Victor added. “Important questions!”
“Good thinking, minion,” Vainqueur said.
“Our chaplain is away on a diplomatic mission.” The marquise then turned to whisper to the same knight as before. “Tell our cooks to prepare a feast for King Vainqueur. The ‘troublesome guest’ kind, with the special ingredient.”
“I will tell the cooks to put the maximum dose,” the knight added.
“We will provide you with a feast, and the reward for your noble deed!” the marquise told Vainqueur. “I hope you shall forgive us for our lack of courtesy!”
“Only if your cattle is good!” Vainqueur replied.
“You will find it most exquisite,” the catkin noble replied with a strange tone, before leaving with her knight.
“She’s…” Victor struggled to find his words. “Damn, she’s a catkin. And here I thought she would be hot.”
“Not as hot as me,” Vainqueur rolled his eyes at his chief of staff’s naivety. “You are too easily impressed, minion. My breath burns brighter than the sun. You have seen it. Of course, she would be lukewarm in comparison.”
“Yeah, at least most of the staff is human. I wonder if one of the ladies-in-waiting is single.”
“Of course they are not ‘single’, your noblewomen are rare in the wild, but not as much as princesses.” Clearly, Vainqueur would have to finish the poor minion’s education.
As the sun began to set, armorless manlings came out of the castle, bringing Vainqueur fat, cooked sheep, pigs, and cows on carriages. A fat, obese manling wearing brighter, cleaner clothes than the servants led the way, carrying purses and sweating. “Minion, is that manling part of the feast?” Vainqueur asked Victor.
“I’m not sure, Your Majesty…”
“No, no,” the fat man sweated. “I am Gilbert, Count of Provencal.”
“Ah, the one who issued the troll request?” Vainqueur’s head perked up. The purses must contain his rewards.
“Yes, yes, I was petitioning the marquise for help getting rid of them before Your… Your Majesty solved the problem.” The count gulped as he looked at the smoke rising on the horizon. “You were very zealous…”
“I am taking my duty as an adventurer seriously,” Vainqueur agreed, swallowing a cow whole and spitting out some meat that got stuck between his sharp fangs. “You can eat the leftovers, minion. Let it never be said that Vainqueur starves his staff.”
The minion glanced at the feast, then at the count, noticing sweat over his forehead. “No, no, I cannot share Your Majesty’s meal,” Victor replied. “It’s all yours.”
Such a dutiful manling. Why did Vainqueur ever bother with goblins? “You have come to deliver my reward?”
“Alongside the marquise’s gift of apology,” the sweating manling said. “She said this was my duty as her vassal.”
“Indeed, what a good minion you are,” Vainqueur said, feasting on sheep covered with a strange sauce. “Minion Victor, count the coins. And do not dare steal them!”
“Oh, very far from my mind, Your Majesty,” Victor replied, taking the purses and doing as asked.
Congratulations! By stomaching the poison in the food like a champ, you gained the [Lesser Poison Immunity] Perk!
“Poison? What was this? Manling seasoning?” The count smiled, although it strangely did not reach his ears, and sweated so much Vainqueur wondered if he would die of it on the spot. Was he ill?
“Yes, Your Majesty,” minion Victor said. “It’s a very bitter spice for special occasions.”
“I did not feel the taste, bring more of it!” Vainqueur complained, the count hurriedly running to the castle and attend to his needs.
Maybe he would get a stronger Perk at the end of the feast?