Instead of breeding, Manling Victor had adopted a full litter of new minions.
And already they proved useful. “Master Vainqueur, Master Vainqueur!” Yellow, the kobold with the best nose, pointed a claw at a bush, the dragon smelling a Scorcher manling hiding there. “I found another!”
Vainqueur let out a roar, raising the giant axe Ogron the one-eyed ogre had kindly given him…
Or rather, struggling, as he couldn’t keep the axe properly aligned even while wielding it with all his clawed fingers. How did the manlings do it?
Like a rabbit, the manling ran out of the bushes, only for Black, the biggest of the new recruits, to chase after him with a spear. Vainqueur followed, causing trees to fall as he moved through the woods; he constantly struggled against the urge to run back on all four, as a good dragon should.
How did that cyclops do it? Raise the axe up, and then down.
Vainqueur tried, the upward swing sending a pine tree fly, and he struggled to aim right at the escaping food-in-waiting. “Minion!” Vainqueur shouted. “MINION!”
“Yes, yes, I’m here!” Manling Victor emerged from the woods with his dagger toothpicks, barring the escaping prey’s way and forcing it to flee in another direction.
“This axe is not working!”
“Just swing it down when we have him immobilized! And remember, you meet the class criteria, but you have to impress your fans with a melee weapon strike, Your Majesty! Kill him with style, or you won’t access the new class!”
Style? Like a crushing display of superiority? “Dear mammals,” Vainqueur asked Dead Manling Running. “Do you know what dragons call pain?”
Kobold Red jumped from a bush, trapping the prey and forcing him to stop running. The mammal briefly turned his head behind, crying at the sight of Vainqueur’s majesty.
“A birth defect!”
And then Vainqueur swept the scorcher with the axe, smashing him into a crater of blood and broken bones.
“Argh!” The aftershock sent his entrails splatter on Red’s face, the poor kobold having to remove brain matter off his eyes. “I have human blood in my eyes!”
“Vainqueur, best dragon!” Black and Yellow cheered him up, as expected. “Vainqueur, best dragon!”
By impressing a crowd of fans with your weapon prowess and moxie, you gained a level in the [Gladiator] Class! You gained the [Arena Warrior] Perk!
+30 HP, +2 STR, +1 VIT, +1 SKI, +1 CHA, +1 LCK!
[Arena Warrior]: instantly gain medium proficiency in all melee weapons.]
“Ouch,” minion Victor said. “Ouch, that joke hurt.”
“Joke?” Vainqueur asked, finding the axe suddenly light in his hand. He played with it, but he still had troubles wielding the weapon without his claws getting in the way. His hands were made to run on all four or rip the prey to shreds, not carry a bladed stick!
“Wait, dragons really consider pain a birth defect?” his chief of staff asked him.
“Why, yes, only lesser beings feel it,” Vainqueur replied plainly, before standing proud. “But not as much as I felt this new Gladiator class!”
“Vainqueur, best dragon!” Red added, late to the party. “Your Majesty is the greatest in the world!”
“Yes, yes, thank you,” Vainqueur replied, pleased, “Still, Minion Victor, do I still need to use the axe to gain levels in that class? I find it impractical.”
“No, just to impress fans with your battle prowesses.”
Vainqueur gave the stick one last chance, grabbing the axe with his mouth and swinging it this way. “Hosh do I loosh?” he asked, trying to adopt a dominant pose, only to hit a tree with the back of the blade and nearly lose equilibrium.
The minions exchanged glances, too aware of their master’s sensitivity to speak their mind. Obviously, he should stick to his dragon weapons.
He was too good for manling weapons anyway.
“Your axe sticks suck,” Vainqueur said, as he spat out the weapon, which landed in the bushes nearby with a loud crash. “Now, Minion Victor, I keep slaughtering these Scorcher ruffians and yet [Old Money] does not activate with your kind.”
“Yeah, I guess it is to prevent nobles from slaughtering their peasants for items. It should work with monsters though.”
Vainqueur glanced at the kobolds with greed, before deciding no good dragon slaughtered their minions for items. For treachery and theft, always, but good, loyal minions were too valuable to get rid of casually.
The world already abounded with victims.
“At least he had some standard loot on him,” Victor said, as he inspected the remains. “Iron daggers, and nice boots.”
“Not good enough for my hoard,” Vainqueur replied. A good dragon had wealth standards. “Next!”
“I don’t smell another,” Yellow said, smelling the air with his fellow kobolds. “Your Majesty got them all!”
“Aw… “ Vainqueur sighed in disappointment. “So no more levels and no gold today?”
“We can always sell his belongings,” Victor suggested. “I know you don’t want to become a Merchant, but we don’t need a class to sell these items. I could even use the gains to invest in better stuff.”
“Invest?” Vainqueur didn’t know the word.
“Yeah, you give away some gold in exchange for something else with more value.”
Vainqueur’s brain stopped working. “Giving away gold.”
“Your Majesty,” Victor cleared his throat. “For something else which has more value.”
“Giving away gold,” Vainqueur repeated, his noble mind unable to progress past that line.
“Yes, but you gain more afterward, so you don’t really give it away. It’s a disguised loan.”
“Giving away gold,” Vainqueur repeated these cursed words for the third time. “Manling Victor are you well? Are you sick? I did not know the lack of breeding could have such dangerous effects on your mental health.”
The minion finally understood he had gone too far into sin. “Your Majesty cannot even imagine it.”
“What kind of sane mind would?” Vainqueur retorted, before shuddering at the mere word. “Giving.”
“Yes, I suddenly realize that may have been too much for Your Majesty.”
“Master Vainqueur, the chief of staff only tried to help you,” Yellow pleaded. “Please forgive him.”
“Buttkisser, buttkisser!” Black taunted his fellow, Red punching both of them in the shoulders. “Ouch!”
“No argument before the chief of staff!” Red said. “Remember protocol!”
“The protocol?” Manling Victor asked.
“The minion protocol,” Vainqueur clarified, before realizing he never drilled his chief of staff on proper minion management.
“The chief of staff is the highest echelon of the minion pecking order, the ultimate honor a monster lord can bestow!” tiny Red explained to manling Victor. “It is the ultimate minion killing machine, the most ferocious enforcer of the most dreaded of masters! Fifty percent strength, fifty percent cunning, two hundred percent loyalty!”
“Now you’re exaggerating on that last bit…” manling Victor replied with his trademark humility.
“You underestimate your importance in the food chain,” Vainqueur cheered him up, “You are only beneath me in the preciousness hierarchy. You are even above princesses!”
“Nice to hear Your Majesty values me between himself and pretty faces,” the minion thanked his generous master.
“Of course, princesses are precious, but you are almost an honorary part of my hoard, manling Victor. If we are to starve, we will make a sacrifice and eat the minions together.”
“Your Majesty, I understood your first sentence, but you lost me with the second.”
“The preciousness rating also represents your place in the food chain,” Vainqueur taught him. “Each member of the chain can eat those below if they are hungry. If you and I are hungry without food available, we can eat minions as emergency rations.”
“It would be an honor to feed Your Majesty!” small Yellow said.
“Wait, wait,” manling Victor panicked. “Does that mean you count me as a potential meal?”
“Not unless we have no food or minions available,” Vainqueur reassured him. “That will never happen. The world is full of dragon food.”
Manling Victor probably understood he should focus more on recruitment from now on. He knew his previous chief of staff had hired a lot of goblins after they had that conversation. Minion Ressource was a full-time, difficult job, after all.
Speaking of minion management… “Where are the sweet Pink and Blue?” Vainqueur asked, having grown slightly paranoid since his last goblins abandoned him in his sleep.
“I sent them to deal with the local blacksmith on my behalf,” Victor said. “I think the Scorchers aren’t at Haudemer to flee the country. Or at least, not only. I believe they are looking for something, and so I want to be prepared.”
“Something? Is it a treasure?”
“I dunno… maybe?”
“If it is not good for my hoard, it is good for nothing. Manling, explain.”
“Haudemer’s region is south of Euskal and north of the city of Rochefronde, which is held by crusaders but besieged by the Ishfanian and summoned fiends. By torching the countryside, the Scorchers cut the supply lines between Euskal and Rochefrond. Do you follow me so far?”
As it always happened with too many uninteresting words, Vainqueur zoned out, pretending to politely listen to what his minion had to say. “Interesting,” the dragon lied.
“Blah blah… no strategic value… Brandon Maure… scorcher scorched… blah bla…”
“-And Your Majesty is really listening?”
“Interesting,” the dragon repeated.
“Interesting,” Red the Kobold and his fellows nodded in agreement, before clenching his tiny fist. “The chief of staff trusted us with such an important mission, we will not fail him!”
“See?” Vainqueur said, “Minions solve every problem, when you raise them right. As expected from my prized chief of staff.”
“One day too, I will be chief of staff,” Black said.
“Me first!” Red butted head with his fellow, Vainqueur so proud of them fighting for the job already.
That would keep Victor sharp. He could already see the seeds of spirited competition germinate in the sharp glint of his treasured minion’s eyes. That fear of losing one’s position to an underling, Vainqueur found it so entertaining.
“Yes, Minion Victor?”
“I earned a Perk which makes it possible for me to learn monsters’ Perks, either if they teach me or if I experience them.”
“Ah, so if I try incinerating you, you will breathe fire too?” Vainqueur asked, curious. “Is that what you want?”
The minion looked up at his beloved dragon master and the smoke coming out of his nostrils, then paled. “You know, Your Majesty, on second thought, I may have been too hasty,” he said. “Let’s forget we ever had this conversation.”
“Your loss,” Vainqueur shrugged. Why would anybody not want to breathe fire? “Maybe one day, should you prove the best chief of staff I ever had, I will teach you the ultimate technique of dragonfire breathing. It is the perfect weapon to kill manlings.”
There, that should motivate him to work hard for Vainqueur’s personal gain.
“I would rather avoid killing people myself,” minion Victor declared. “If I kill a fellow human, I will meet all the criteria for a specific class, and probably level up in it. I don’t want to.”
“Oh? Which class?” Maybe it could apply to Vainqueur.
“Assassin. I really wouldn’t feel proud of this one, even if the Scorchers are assholes who deserve to die.”
“Minion, I have eaten enough of your kind to get sick of it, and I never received a level in that class,” Vainqueur pointed out.
“I never did either!” Black complained.
“When did you ever kill a human?” Red asked.
“In my heart…”
“You need to fulfill a few more criteria,” Victor shrugged. “And you need to kill members of your own species willingly, which I doubt you have yet.”
“Well, minion, it’s not as if you will need to defend me from your puny kind. Stick to my class planning and I will take care of the food.”
“Your generosity truly knows no bounds, Your Majesty.”
“I know,” Vainqueur said, feeling on a goodness spree. “About this ruffian’s belongings, Minion Victor, you are now—”
“Your treasurer and hoard manager?”
“Never!” Vainqueur roared, taking the manling aback as his golden eyes shone with wrath. “No touching my hoard!”
The kobold minions cowered behind their chief of staff, who had lost all the color on his skin. By now, Vainqueur had guessed manlings reacted this way when reminded of dragon superiority.
The greatest calamity of this age calmed himself. “No, manling Victor. I said yesterday selling is a minion’s work, and that is exactly what you and the kobolds are going to do.”
“So you want me to open a shop away from the frontlines?” Victor asked, slightly more enthusiastic than Vainqueur had expected.
“You already have the name,” Vainqueur said, “V&V! That way, we get rid of the junk not shiny enough for my hoard, except gold and jewels, which are!”
“Your attempt to corner the value chain is truly brilliant, Your Majesty,” the obsequious Manling Victor congratulated him.
“And, and, to keep you motivated, I will allow you to keep one,” Vainqueur raised a claw once he had the minions’ full attention, “One-tenth of the profits you will earn!”
“We… we are going to be paid?” Yellow almost had tears in his eyes. “Paid…”
“Indeed, you are way more generous than the King himself,” said Victor.
The mere mention of this ruffian angered the dragon. “I swear to you, manling Victor,” Vainqueur declared, “V&V shall never pay taxes to this criminal, ever.”
“I will send royal constables to you, Your Majesty. I am sure they will agree to a tax exemption.”
“No giving away money,” Vainqueur insisted, shuddering at the words. “No investing. The glorious name of V&V cannot be associated with this madness. Also, sell the corpses. I am sick of eating manlings all the time.”
"Selling corpses, Your Majesty?"
"Doesn't your kind hunt monsters to collect their corpses and sell their parts?" Vainqueur had seen many would-be 'dragonslayers' - he sneered inwardly at the word - wield weapons and items made of other creatures.
"Well, yes, but monster parts. Adventurers don't harvest bandit corpses."
"Then what do you do with them?"
Victor scratched the back of his tiny head. "We just leave them laying around for animals to eat..."
"No more giving, minion. You will now find a way to make money out of this waste of skin."
While Vainqueur removed some meat in between his fangs with his claw, Victor kept nodding to himself in short succession. Vainqueur wondered if he had broken his neck. “So Your Majesty wants me to open a shop where I sell junk and monster parts and corpses. Wonderful. Anything else?”
“This is a lot of work, but you are my chief of staff,” Vainqueur reassured him, “You will find the time in between preparing my class progression and training the Kobolds in those you deem appropriate.”
Manling Victor said no word, as he struggled under the weight of his duties. “Teach classes to the kobolds…”
“You fail to grasp my grandiose vision for V&V, Minion Victor. An adventurer party of minions, trained from the egg and working to the death to fulfill quests; shopkeepers selling junk and meat in every single one of your backward villages, filling chests with gold. Everyone working together to build the greatest hoard that shall ever be! A mountain of gold which will make your tallest castle crumble in shame at its shiny glory!”
Vainqueur narrowed his head, so his silent minions could see the fire in his eyes.
Victor made a strange smile, which Vainqueur assumed as one of absolute joy.