Located on a creek near the docks, Haudemer’s temple was a rather large stony church by manling standards. According to Manling Victor, due to Haudemer being a small town, the twelve ‘gods’—Vainqueur couldn’t help but chuckle at the word—the manlings worshipped had to share the same temple.
From what he had understood, puny species worshipped these stronger creatures the same way minions obeyed their dragon masters, with the bonus of being promised a place at their side after death. That part confused the dragon, he expected to live forever.
Vainqueur guessed the prospect of an afterlife could only appeal to races fragile enough to, well, die.
The inhabitants had deserted the temple’s surroundings once they caught sight of Vainqueur. While he perfectly understood their inferiority complex when basking in his presence, a little awe and worship would have been nice. If they had enough of it to worship twelve non-dragons, then certainly they could spare him some adoration.
Only one manling hadn’t fled, and harassed his chief of staff instead.
“Do you want salvation in a new world?” That manling looked even more ridiculous than the rest of his kind, with his black robe and a badly painted map of seas and land masses on his chest and forehead. “Wait, I can feel your Isekai levels, medium!”
“I’m a Claimed,” Vainqueur’s chief of staff protested, showing his dice tattoo. “And you mixed up North and South America on your map!”
“Ohoh, perfect!” Instead of being discouraged, the harasser grabbed the minion’s arm. “If you sign up to the Esoteric Order of the New World, you are guaranteed to reincarnate on the mythical island of Japan, where every girl is a virgin!”
“Scram!” Victor tried to push the manling away away. “Get him off me!”
“Minions,” Vainqueur ordered, as he was too important to deal with it. “Do the thing.”
“Defend the chief of staff!” Red commanded the kobolds, the five critters jumping on the deluded cultist at once and clawing at his face.
“Argh, kobolds!” the manling cultist protested, as he tried to throw the critters off his back. “Get them off me!”
“Don’t kill him, just restrain him!” Victor pleaded as the Kobolds restrained the poor fool on the ground. Vainqueur watched the scene with quiet amusement.
Those five were too adorable to end up as emergency rations. Vainqueur hoped Victor would recruit less funny minions whom he could eat without regret.
The scene did confuse the dragon though. “What was that, manling Victor?”
“It’s a money scam,” Victor complained. “I’ve lived on Earth, and it’s nothing like he just said!”
“Why are we even here? Minion, while I understand your lesser species’ need to pay homage to a higher power, but if you want to pray to someone, you should pray to me. I even answer sometimes.”
“Your Majesty wanted to get rid selling off corpses and monster parts,” his chief of staff pointed at the carriage behind them. “The church deals with them.”
Ah, yes. In total, Vainqueur had ‘collected’ six manling thieves, and one manticore he accidentally cut down during his masterful practice with his axe. They also encountered goblins, fleeing on sight from him; the dragon had simply glared them down as if they weren’t good enough for him, which they were.
What was he thinking back then, recruiting those cowards as minions? Manling Victor had made the right call, kobolds solved everything.
Manling Victor left the cultist to the minions, walking past the temple’s opened gates and inside the whitened, majestic hall within. Vainqueur followed him soon afterward, head and neck first, carrying himself with pure draconic majesty.
Then, he failed to fit his wings through.
With a grunt, Vainqueur attempted to squeeze himself inside, but too fat after feasting, he couldn’t fit. His shoulders hitting the walls made the temple tremble, but unlike the puny guildhall, the walls were strong and thick.
Manling Victor watched the sight with a blank expression, taking a sip of a water canteen while politely waiting for his master to finish his dramatic entrance. Vainqueur noticed a few other manlings inside the building watching with expectation.
“Minion Victor!” the dragon complained to his sidekick, “Tell the architects to build a bigger door!”
“Sure, Your Majesty,” the chief of staff replied. “But could you avoid causing the place to fall on us poor mortals?”
As he finally realized he wouldn’t get inside without collapsing the entire temple on his lackey first, Vainqueur settled on only letting his neck and head inside with a groan.
Why did the manlings have to be so small?
The temple of Haudemer was mainly composed of a great white hall, and two small wings on both sides. Each of the twelve gods of the puny races had a statue and altar inside, although not with the same degree of respect.
The dragon’s share of the spotlight went to the same creature Vainqueur had acquired a statuette of, Mithras, the sun god of law and justice. It was a manling king wearing a golden crown of fire and wielding a blazing sword, whose giant marble statue had the largest altar. At his side was a statue of a blonde female manling knight with large mammaries, whom the puny races called Leone, goddess of art and nobility.
According to Manling Victor, these two ascended manlings were the titular deities of Gardemagne, and thus positioned at the center. “The architect placed the more ambiguous deities, such as the Dread Three, Sablar and Shesha, on the left,” Manling Victor told his master, his tone so low Vainqueur could barely hear it, “And the ‘politically correct’ deities, the Moon Man, Seng, Cybele, Isengrim, and Dice on the right.”
The manling glared at that Dice’s statue with hatred. From what Vainqueur had gathered from the last prayers of the adventurers foolish to attack him in the past, the ’Dice Who Rolled,’ was the deity of magic, weather, and luck. As per its name, it was a dice with an eye at the center of each of its twenty faces.
“Manling Victor, you do not like dice?” Unlike Victor’s subdued tone, Vainqueur didn’t care about respecting a quiet atmosphere, his voice booming through the hall. Nobody dared complain.
He would have eaten any who did.
“That dim creature summoned me to Outremonde without asking,” the lackey replied. “And unfortunately since it first unlocked the class system, everyone worships it. It is almost as popular as Mithras.”
Pff… right. As if dragons didn’t level up first. Vainqueur refused to believe he was the first of his kind to do so.
Dice’s altar looked more like a gambling table than a religious site, with a catkin priest busy playing a board game with what the dragon assumed to be two minions. Even Vainqueur’s wonderful arrival hadn’t made them raise their eyes off the game.
So Vainqueur loudly cleared his throat, and they briefly glanced up at his head long enough to satisfy him.
Most of the altars had at least one tiny priest nearby, with three exceptions. One tentacled squid whom the dragon recognized as the Moon Man, an ancient creature his kind fought off in the distant past; a humanoid crow wearing a harlequin costume and carrying a sharp scythe, drenched in blood; and a huge worm like those infesting the caves below Vainqueur’s own lair. The manlings had utterly savaged the last statue.
“That’s Sablar, the monstrous worm god of earth, time, and destruction,” explained Manling Victor. Vainqueur was silently pleased he didn’t have to voice his ignorance out loud. “No one worships it in Gardemagne, since it supports their enemies. People pray against it.”
“And the others?” Vainqueur listened, just in case there was profit to be made.
“Bah, the Moon Man doesn’t remember he has followers half the time, and Deathjester is the god of crime. Nobody worships him openly.”
“How much levels is that Sablar worth?” Vainqueur asked, eager to get that stipend and free money. “We could hunt him down if there is a reward on his head.”
“I don’t think picking a fight with a god is a good idea, even for Your Majesty.”
“Why? If it exists, I can kill it. I am a dragon, remember? I eat his wormy kind whenever they enter my cave.”
“Yes, but that one is level one hundred and turned the southern continent into a desert. Also, nobody puts a bounty on a god’s head.”
Vainqueur briefly noticed Manling Lynette discussing with a priest nearby, but Victor focused on the matter at hand first, approaching the altar of Mithras.
“Greetings, faithful,” the Bishop behind it said, a nice-smelling priestess of Leone at his side; unlike the unflappable priest, the woman observed Vainqueur with the appropriate degree of fear and apprehension. “Have you come to make an offering?”
“An offering?” Vainqueur asked, amused by the puny races’ strange customs.
“You offer money to the Church as an offer to the god, in place of fealty,” Victor explained to him the concept.
Vainqueur immediately saw an opportunity. “Minion Victor—”
“Your Majesty can’t be a god,” his lackey said hastily, the quickest sentence he ever uttered, “Unless he reaches level 100.”
Vainqueur sulked in disappointment. When he reached that level and became a god, he would ask his minions to build him a larger temple and a bigger statue than this Mithras. No way he would share it with other gods either.
“We have six human corpses outside, and that of a Manticore,” Victor told the priest. “Will the church take them?”
“We will purify the corpses so they do not rise as spontaneous undead, then burn them free of charges,” said the priest of Mithras. “If you prefer another method, the priests of Isengrim and Cybele will bury them in the forest, so they can return to nature.”
“For free?” Vainqueur glared down at the priest. “You will not pay me for the transportation service?”
“Why would we pay you for a public service?”
“Because we inquired significant expenses in the course of their deadification.”
“This isn’t a real word, Your Majesty,” Victor said.
“Of course it is, since I said it,” Vainqueur insisted.
“We do not pay people to gather corpses,” the Bishop of Mithras replied, glaring back at the dragon. “If you want to be paid instead of doing the moral thing, I suggest you turn to the church of Shesha instead.”
“Where?” the dragon asked immediately, his greed stronger than his anger at the animal’s insolence.
Victor pointing a finger on the left-wing, at the altar of a serpentlike humanoid with the upper body of a winged woman and the lower half of a snake. As befitting of a creature that looked the most like a dragon, her statue was the most outrageous of all, made from solid gold.
“Hi there, Lynette,” Manling Victor said as he approached that altar. Vainqueur greedily looked at the statue, leaving his lackey to his poor attempt at pre-breeding. “Of course you would worship the goddess of commerce.”
“Yes and no, Victor,” she replied. “It’s more of a business deal.”
“Unlike the other gods, who are fickle in their gifts, Lady Shesha trades for her miracles according to the rules of the market,” said the goddess’ priestess, a bellyful dwarven woman. “For an appropriate monetary gift, she provides.”
“She improves the prosperity of my inn for a fee,” Lynette explained.
“Really?” Manling Victor sounded strangely hopeful. “How much to be transported back to my homeworld of Earth?”
“Let me ask the goddess.” The priest underwent a brief trance, feverishly waving his hands until a golden number made of light briefly flashed into sight.
Vainqueur had never seen so many zeros. “That’s robbery!” Victor voiced his master’s contempt.
“You get a twenty percent reduction if you take the Shesha worshipper annual subscription,” the priestess tried to sucker Manling Victor, the number altered to reflect the deduction. “Thirty percent if you become a Bishop or Vestal. Donations to the Church of Shesha are also tax-deductible, so if you have time we can discuss your financial future.”
“The minion has no intention of leaving his current, fulfilling job,” Vainqueur answered for Victor, although he noted that being a god sounded almost as profitable as being an adventurer.
“Yeah,” Victor replied with a strangely less than enthusiastic tone. “We came to get rid of seven corpses outside, six Scorchers and one manticore.”
“We can buy the corpses to make fertilizer, and use the manticore’s parts for leather and potions. Taking into account the value, I would give one gold piece per human corpse, and one hundred for the manticore’s pelt.”
“One hundred and six?” the dragon said upon adding the numbers, “I say double.”
“One hundred and six,” the priestess replied, eyes shining with the steely determination of the true negotiator.
So Vainqueur upped his price. “Triple!”
“Your Majesty, you are supposed to go lower in a negotiation.”
“Lower is only for unassertive manlings,” Vainqueur replied. “I am a dragon, I know what I am worth. As my representative, I expect you to show dominance as well, minion Victor.”
“Dragon or not, the market is absolute,” the priestess replied, her greed so pure, so dragon-worthy Vainqueur couldn’t hold it against her. “One hundred and six.”
Manling Lynette observed the scene in silence, while a hooded figure wearing heavy, hooded crimson robes, approached the group as the argument heated up.
“Excuse me, I heard your argument,” a figure said with a raspy voice. Even if he couldn’t see his face beneath the hood, Vainqueur noticed his corpselike white hands and the familiar smell of rot underneath. A ghoul. “Are you looking to sell fresh corpses?”
Vainqueur glanced at the undead, then at his lackey. “That’s a worshiper of Camilla,” the minion said, pointing at the mosquito crest on the newcomer’s robes. “The Marquise of Blood, goddess of death, pestilence, and darkness. One of the Dread Three.”
“The three what?”
“The Dread Three. Camilla, goddess of death, Deathjester, the god of crime, and Veran, goddess of fire and tyranny. A trio of evil adventurers who became gods together, and stayed friends since; they oppose Mithras, but people are too scared of them to ban their worship.”
“I resent that evil label,” the ghoul replied. “Our goddess is simply misunderstood.”
“Didn’t she unleash the Red Death plague that turned many people into bloodthirsty vampires?” Manling Victor asked.
“Only to prevent overpopulation, and the vampires played a critical role in defeating the Fomor during the Century War. As I said, misunderstood.” The figure coughed. “Anyway, have you heard of the undead labor trade?”
“Here we go again,” the priestess of Shesha said with a sigh.
“No, never,” Vainqueur said.
“I did,” Victor said. “They buy corpses from living relatives, turn them into mindless zombies, then put them to labor work, from mining to farming. Isn’t it illegal, though?”
“The undead labor trade is a perfectly legal new industry, albeit currently limited to very few cities allowing it in their charters,” the hooded figure replied. “Very few of them do, but in time, when they see the benefits of enslaving the dead for the betterment of the living, we hope more towns adopt it. Imagine, zombies laboring the fields in every town, from Midgard to Ishfania, or fearless skeletons saving helpless orphans from forest fires.”
“Oh, where can I get one?” Vainqueur asked, now positively giddy.
“Your Majesty loves the dead?” Victor asked. “I never thought you would be that kind of dragon.”
“Minion Victor, having undead as minions is a status symbol among dragons,” Vainqueur told his chief of staff. “And they are so useful. They never run away, they do not eat, they are not tempted by a hoard, they live almost as long as dragons…”
Vainqueur’s own rival, that arrogant Icefang, couldn’t stop boasting about his army of dead manlings protecting his treasure when he didn’t brag about his crown.
“From what I heard, Victor,” the necromancer priest of Camilla told the lackey, “You fit the criteria to unlock the Necromancer class. You could make good money.”
“Really?” Vainqueur glanced down at his lackey, who lowered his head. “You can raise the dead? That is wonderful!”
“I meet the criteria to take levels in that class,” the lackey admitted. “But I’m not proud of it.”
“Minion, you have to take levels in that class,” Vainqueur insisted. “For my own good.”
“I must warn you,” said the priestess of Shesha. “That our goddess herself is currently unsure whether the potential long-term consequences of mass necromancy make up for the added market value.”
“I assure you our use of undead labor is perfectly safe, and no matter what these bourgeois noble imperialists trying to crack down free undead enterprise will tell you, there is no proof necromantic energy negatively affects the environment.” That necromancer couldn’t help going on a tirade. “Sincerely, the use of mindless labor is more ethical than the animal slavery still practiced by our nation. Animals have feelings, animated corpses don’t.”
“Corpseling,” Vainqueur interrupting, caring more about a quick buck than local politics. “How much?”
“If you sign a binding contract authorizing us to turn them into undead, we can provide fifty gold pieces per corpse and five hundred for the Manticore. Eight hundred in total.”
“Deal!” Vainqueur said before Minion Victor could open his mouth.
“I will need to inspect the corpses first,” the priest of Camilla said.
The necromancer left to examine the ‘wares,’ Manling Lynette put a hand on Victor’s arm. “Victor, Your Majesty, can we talk for a second?”
Victor nodded, clearly eager to earn the female’s favor. “What’s the matter?”
“Henry is missing,” she told them, before giving Victor a letter. “Someone ransacked his home last night, stole his researches, and left this inside.”
Henry. Vainqueur struggled to remember that name, while Victor read the letter.
“One very pompous Captain François Vilmain of Harmonia,” said the minion, “Politely offers to discuss the release of ‘our common friend Henry’ and an ‘offering of gold’ with ‘His Glorious Majesty King Vainqueur Knightsbane’ in exchange for the use of Haudemer’s ships.” Vainqueur silently appreciated that at least one manling knew the proper way to address him. “Vilmain also offered coordinates for the meeting point and an hour this evening, and not at all sinisterly signed with blood.”
“Our apothecary confirmed it to be Henry’s,” said Manling Lynette, who sounded worried, “Since we do not have any spellcaster powerful enough to locate him, I thought to ask the goddess Shesha, but the price she asks is great.”
“If they want to buy my forgiveness and a ship, who am I to judge?” Vainqueur replied, still not remembering who this Henry was.
“Your Majesty, the meeting place is conveniently very far from Haudemer. This is clearly a trap.”
“I know, minion, but what can they do? Not die?”
“Clearly not, but they could sack the city in Your Majesty’s absence and escape,” the manling pointed out. “If they haven’t lied and killed Henry already by bleeding him dry.”
Manling Lynette made a blank face, then left without a word. “W-wait, I didn’t mean it!” Minion Victor called her, “That was just the worst-case scenario!”
Vainqueur figured his lackey wouldn’t reproduce anytime soon.
In the end, after the corpseling found the wares to his liking, Vainqueur had Victor sign a very long contract with the church of Camilla. Basically, as the legal ‘living relative’ he swore on the gods he agreed to surrender the corpses to necromantic transformation.
“I just sold corpses to a necromancer for postmortem slave labor,” Manling Victor complained. “That feels dirty.”
“Why? There is no greater pleasure in life than watching my hoard grow!” Vainqueur decided to cheer his lackey up with his promised fee. “Corpseling, please give my chief of staff his fee of eight gold coins.”
“Eight coins?” Manling Victor blinked. “I thought it was one-tenth of the sales?”
“One one-tenth,” Vainqueur clarified.
Manling Victor looked up at his master, apparently not very good with math. “Like one-tenth of a tenth?”
“Yes,” Vainqueur replied, “One one-tenth, as I promised. What, you want less?”
“No, I’m good,” the minion said wisely. “This is already too generous from you.”
“We will have the corpses reanimated and sent to the cities of Ferpuit and Minecreuse for immediate mining labor,” said the necromancer, true name ‘Jules Rapace’ according to the contract. “Thank you for supporting our country’s modernization.”
Congratulations! For ruthlessly selling your enemies’ corpses to the church of Camilla, making the world a deader place, you earned the [Deadfriend] Personal Perk!
[Deadfriend]: mindless undead mistake you for one of their own and do not attack you, unless attacked first; +5 charisma when interacting with the undead or worshippers of Camilla.
“Sweet, minion, I have a new Perk! You too?”
“Never before have I been more ashamed of one.”