“That feast was great,” Vainqueur told Victor, as his faithful minion returned from the ash-filled ruins of the Woods of Gevaudan, having covered his mouth with a scarf and carrying a full bag on his back. Vainqueur could already hear the sound of his new treasures falling on his hoard. “We should come back one day.”
The dragon wondered how that noble catkin would have tasted if roasted. Beastkins had varied tastes, and that one would have been fat enough to satisfy Vainqueur’s ravenous appetite.
Yesterday’s feast, and the ash-filled atmosphere of the burned woods, made Vainqueur hungry for a special barbecue. It had been a long time since he had eaten anything more varied than cattle or bland, unfulfilling knightly manlings.
What else could he eat? Elves were vegan food. They tasted like the grass they liked so much and made him sick. Dwarves were nice, fat and thick, but Vainqueur always got drunk after eating more than three. Goblins were little more than snacks.
Dragons then? Come to think of it, Vainqueur had never eaten other dragons. Vainqueur wondered how he himself would taste, with that sweet manling sauce and spices.
No, that would be cannibalism. Vainqueur wasn’t a savage.
“We, Your Majesty?” the minion asked his master.
“Minion, you are my official guide,” Vainqueur gave his chief of staff a new promotion. He had more than deserved it, and due to his current minion shortage, the dragon had many offices to distribute. “You take care of the trip, I take care of the food. Now, what have you found?”
“Quite a lot, actually. That [Old Money] perk is goddamn useful. No wonder nobles live the high life.” The minion opened the bag, presenting Vainqueur’s new treasures to the dragon, jeweled rings, necklaces, sounding horns, trinkets and other shiny stuff. “A [Ring of Fire Resistance], a [Horn of Wyvern Calling], a [Gold Statue of Mithras], a [Firebomb Necklace], a pair of |Solar Bracers] and a lot of gold pieces I haven't counted, probably twenty thousand or so.”
Vainqueur marveled at the new additions to his hoard, especially the three foot tall gold statue of some manling king and the golden bracers. At this rate, he would double the size of his hoard within the week.
Since nothing should have resisted his flames, Vainqueur figured the Perk must have materialized these treasures after the incineration. The more he learned about this class system, the more it fascinated him. “You sound like an expert retriever, minion," Vainqueur said, noticing his chief of staff had identified each item by name, "I did not know this.”
“That’s thanks to my [Eye for Treasure],” Victor replied. “It’s a Class Perk that allows me to identify magical items and their value.”
“What about this [Lesser Poison Resistance] perk I received yesterday? You said I could only get one every two levels.”
“Yes, for class perks. There are two categories of perks, class perks and personal perks. The first are obtained by leveling up, the others by fitting specific criteria, like eating too much poison. I heard it’s very rare to get it this way.”
“Who else but a dragon to unlock it?” Vainqueur declared proudly. He was just getting started. “Put the treasures with the rest of my earnings. We return to my hoard to add them to it, and then we go…” The dragon left the sentence hanging.
“Hunt the kraken of Messaline, Your Majesty?” Manling Victor suggested.
“Hunt the sixty thousand coins squid, my thought exactly, minion.” Just the thought of eating that kraken and getting paid for it made him salivate. Maybe the creature would drop a greater treasure Vainqueur hadn't collected yet, like a throne or a crown.
Being an adventurer was awesome! Why didn’t more dragons tried it?
“About that, Your Majesty,” Victor cleared his throat, coughing due to the ashes, “I only survived the trip thanks to a potion of fire resistance the marquise gave me. What use to you have of that ring or the bracers?”
“They are shiny, and they will look good in my hoard.”
“I’m just saying, I would perform my duties better with good equipment, Your Majesty. Especially if you have me search for items in ash-covered ruins every week. At worse, you could recover your shiny treasures from my corpse if I die in the line of duty.”
“What equipment?” The demand confused Vainqueur more than anything. “You will not look better with bracers or a ring. All manlings look the same.”
“Thank you for the kind remark, Your Majesty.”
“You are welcome, minion.”
“Anyway, the ring will make me resistant to fire, the horn can help me summon a wyvern in a pinch, and the bracers increase my strength under the sun. Only the necklace is more trouble than it is worth, and unless either of us worship the god Mithras, the statuette has no effect besides looking good.”
Vainqueur gave his lackey a confused look. “You can get stronger by wearing bracers?”
Victor’s face morphed into a strange expression, as if he had said something stupid. Vainqueur pushed further as he connected the dots. “Minion, are you telling me that you also became resistant to fire by drinking a potion?”
The minion shifted uncomfortably, as if he had something to hide. “Yes, Your Majesty, I did. For a time.”
So all along, the foolish manlings trying to kill him didn't wear items to look less unremarkable? They could get more powers from magical items?
"Marvelous!" Not that Vainqueur would ever need a potion to survive a trip among flames, but the idea of his hoard making him more powerful appealed to him. Vainqueur already imagined himself with a golden crown making his breath even hotter. "And the bracers give strength? I will try them at once!”
“They’re human-sized so they won’t fit,” the minion pointed out the obvious.
“Oh?” Vainqueur checked, and realized that yes, all of his new treasures were indeed manling-sized. He did not hide his disappointment, nor the anger boiling within him. “Why does my Perk brought me human-sized treasure? This is sabotage! A malfunction!”
“Maybe it was never meant to work with dragons, Your Majesty.”
“Exactly, a malfunction.” Who created these crappy, manling-centered Perks? He would have a word with the designers.
Unable to wear the items himself, Vainqueur considered manling Victor’s offer. The minion was as weak as the rest of his kind - he couldn’t even survive fire - but he had been an exemplary, reliable servant so far. Vainqueur decided he wanted to keep him around safe and healthy, at least until he could rebuild his minion stable.
“Fine, minion, I agree to loan you items you can wear. No need to thank me, my generosity knows no bounds.” Of course, Vainqueur expected his lackey to thank him anyway, and looked at him expectantly.
“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Victor replied, bowing so deeply Vainqueur wondered if his hair would touch the ashes.
“That [Eye for Treasure] Perk, how can I get it?” Vainqueur asked, curious and eager to marvel at his own treasures. “Does it come from your Monster Squire class?”
“No, that’s from my first class, Outl—” Victor stopped himself, as Vainqueur squinted at him.
“You can be two classes at once?” Vainqueur caught on, suddenly very interested. “How many?”
The minion lowered his head in embarrassment, scratching the back of his head. “As many as you can achieve. The level cap is one hundred in total though. Afterward you become a god and ascend to heaven. I don’t think anyone alive today reached level eighty, though.”
Only because no dragon ever tried. “Then I, Vainqueur, will reach level one hundred!” the dragon boasted with enthusiasm, dreaming about the loot so many Perks could provide him, “And you, minion, will reach ninety-nine!”
"That's the spirit, Your Majesty."
Vainqueur let the minion read maps and papers, thinking about the minion taught him. If he could get stronger wearing enchanted items, the dragon wondered how he would look in an armor of gold. It would be like carrying his hoard all the time. A new world full of wonderful possibilities had opened itself to the dragon.
“Your Majesty?” the minion asked, after reading the papers, “On a second thought, I think the kraken can wait.”
“What could possibly delay me doubling my hoar-” Vainqueur stopped himself mid-sentence, unwilling to reveal his hoard’s size. The fact it seemed quite small when compared to what adventurers earned already shamed him, although he would never admit it openly. “Explain.”
“According to the request, the kraken disrupts a sea trade route to the southern merchant empire of Barin, since its den is located on the way. Merchants want it gone to improve trade, hence the big reward, but if left undisturbed, the kraken doesn’t disturb anyone. The Scorchers... not so much.”
“Scorchers?” Vainqueur had never heard of them. “Are they a kind of knights?”
“Yes and no. They’re former soldiers and mercenaries turned highwaymen when the war’s end left them jobless. I have the bounty posters of three of their leaders, and they’re an endless litany of murders, abductions, arsons, property damage, slaughters, and other war crimes perpetrated on the helpless peasantry.”
A bunch of glorified thieves then. Vainqueur would have smote them on principle, but he never did anything for free. Not anymore. "I am listening."
“Gustave La Muraille,” Minion Victor read the wanted poster of a knight with a black, horned helmet, “Twenty levels in Knight, four levels in Heavy Knight, three levels in Turncoat, total level twenty-seven. A human deserter from the Gardemagnian army leading a warband of twenty soldiers; wanted for the sack of the Poustagniac village and the massacre of its eighty-seven inhabitants. Duchess Aelinor of Euskal offers five thousand gold coins for his head. And that’s the nicest of the three. Ogron the Ogre has a triple-digit body count, and François Vilmain is a corrupt priest who reinvented himself as a demon summoner.”
While the manling’s concern for his puny kind was almost touching, Vainqueur only cared about one thing, “How much?”
“Ten thousands for Ogron, since he's the toughest, and five thousand for Vilmain. Twenty thousand all together, officially.”
“Minion, twenty thrice makes sixty,” Vainqueur brushed him off, before catching on, “What do you mean by, officially?”
The minion smiled at him, as if sharing a secret. “They are enemies of the great and beautiful Duchess Aelinor, who will be very grateful if we get rid of them. I’m sure she will give you a much greater reward under the table.”
“Why under a table? Is it a magic ritual?”
“Ah, no, it’s uh, a metaphor, Your Majesty. Meaning that she will offer us a much greater reward that is not mentioned in the bounty.”
“If she is willing to offer more, why didn’t she put it in the request?” Vainqueur found the hole in the minion’s logic. The dragon had the distinct feeling the minion was trying to sucker him into fighting these bandits, but on the other hand, Vainqueur still had much to learn.
“Because of royal taxes,” Victor replied hastily. “The king takes a tenth of rewards offered through the Adventurer Guild, and that doesn’t include the guild’s own five percent fee.”
Vainqueur almost choked. “A tenth?! That is theft! No wonder you turned outlaw, your puny race is led by a robber!”
“Indeed, Your Majesty,” Manling Victor said. “Hence why I think she will probably offer the real reward outside the official channels, so it does not get taxed. Avoiding taxes is an ancient, respected human tradition... and Your Majesty is a dragon. I am sure she will enjoy rewarding you the same way the Marquise did.”
“A noble endeavor,” Vainqueur commented, before wondering about how this duchess looked like. “Aelinor, is she a princess?”
The minion shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno. Maybe.”
The prospect of adding a princess to his hoard delighted the dragon almost as much as the promise of easy money. “Minion, we will hunt your thieving kind at once.”