“You thankless traitor!” Vainqueur lambasted Minion Victor in front of the terrified kobolds, the sheer power of his voice making him fall down on the sand. “You, you… you goblin, how could you do this to me?!”
“I swear, Your Majesty, this is not what it looks like!”
“It is exactly what it looks like!” Vainqueur replied. “I turn my back on you for five minutes, five minutes, and you cheat on me with another dragon! And a wyvern at that!”
A horse-sized wyvern with lustrous black scales, and shiny ruby eyes that would lead any minion astray - and did - stood next to Victor. The pony to Vainqueur’s pegasus, all pretty looks and nothing else. Wyverns were as dim as cattle, and couldn’t even breathe fire!
Vainqueur had caught his minion riding that shameless creature’s back, caressing the scales behind her horns. He felt disgusted just by remembering it.
And worse, the minion had brought an iron necklace adjusted to that flying rat’s neck! The minion had intended to replace Vainqueur and then dress her up!
Of course, the treacherous minion tried to play dumb, “I was just testing the [Horn of Wyvern Summoning], I swear!”
Vainqueur was too pissed to care, “You fool, she is all pretty scales and nothing else! What, she let you ride on her back? Was it worth it?!”
“No Majesty, you maggot! I spend all my time being the best dragon master for you, and this is how you repay my kindness? I thought we had committed to a special, fulfilling master-minion relationship!”
“I swear this is not what it looks like,” Minion Victor repeated, even if Vainqueur had caught in the act. The wyvern looked at Vainqueur with a dumb, smug look.
Vainqueur would have eaten that filthy creature if it hadn’t been cannibalism.
“And you cheat on me after I gave you custody of our first minions!” Vainqueur pointed a claw at their kobolds. “After I promoted you!”
“Master, chief, please stop fighting,” sweet Pink cried.
“Your Majesty, I really, really don’t like the wording of this conversation.” Victor found the strength to rise back up, dusting sand off his cloak. “And I climbed on her back just once!”
“I know your species has a shameful fixation on dragon riding, but climbing on my back is a very special privilege. You know I can never give you that, minion. But it does not matter. What matters,” Vainqueur stressed that word, “Is that you are a dirty, shameless master-chaser trying to replace me with a wyvern!”
“Wait, no, of course not! It’s part of a plot to trick the Scorchers and get you richer, I swear!”
“Then what about this necklace?!”
“It’s not a necklace, it’s a ring! For you!”
Vainqueur froze in surprise. “Truly?” he asked, his greed getting the better of him. Indeed, that necklace did look like the rings he often saw on princesses’ fingers…
“I hope I’m not going to regret it, but…” Victor sighed. “Here’s a dragon-sized [Ring of Invisibility]. Just say ‘blink’ while wearing it, and you will become invisible. Remember when I sent the Kobolds on an errand? I asked the local blacksmith to craft that ring, and he was glad enough for your protection not to ask for a payment.”
His… his first, dragon-sized magical item?
No, wait, that was a trick to get back in his good graces! “Why would I become invisible, when I am perfect the way I look?”
“It’s a trick to use on the Scorchers, Your Majesty,” the minion replied, “So you can take them by surprise.”
Ah. Ah… “Like when kidnapping a princess by swooping in in front of knights?” Vainqueur asked, well-versed in that timeless strategy.
“Like princesses with knights,” Victor replied with his usual strange, pitiful tone.
At long last everything made sense, much to Vainqueur’s satisfaction. “I cannot believe I doubted my own chief of staff’s loyalty. Why did you make me doubt you? I could have eaten you for it.” Vainqueur grumbled at his manling’s mishandling of the matter. “I will forgive you for this misunderstanding.”
“I am forever in Your Majesty’s debt.”
“Of course, since I own you,” Vainqueur stated the obvious. “Now, give me that ring before I change my mind.”
And so, under the twilight sun, Vainqueur accepted the minion’s gift of reconciliation. Manling Victor put the ring on his master's left fourth finger, while the minions clapped in happiness and the wyvern sulked in a corner.
His very first magic item!
Congratulations! For making up with your trusted vassal and strengthening your relationship, you have gained two levels in [Noble]! +60 HP, +10 SP, +1 STR, +1 SKI, +1 AGI, +2 INT, +1 CHA, +2 LCK! You gained the [Noblesse Oblige] Perk!
[Noblesse Oblige]: You gain a temporary stat boost to all your statistics when you defend your vassals from outsiders.
“Your Majesty just needs to say blink, and—”
“Blink!” Vainqueur’s scales turned transparent. “I cannot see myself.”
“Yes, Your Majesty, you have become invisible,” Victor said, the kobolds petting the wyvern in the background.
“Yes, but it is one thing to imagine the world without me, and another to 'see' it,” Vainqueur complained. He, after all, denied everyone the pleasure of watching him. “Now, minion, when do I get that [Stipend] Perk?”
“Soon, Your Majesty, soon…” minion Victor marked a short pause, his eyes set on the city nearby. “Mmm?”
“What is it, minion?” Vainqueur glanced at Haudemer’s direction, noticing a thick white mist spreading to engulf the city whole. The dragon couldn’t smell, nor hear anything within it. Strange. “An evening fog?”
“Spreading so quickly at this hour?” Victor shook his head. “No. The Scorchers returned, Sir. The town is under attack.”
“The rangers are ready to strike, chief!” Red said, the kobolds adopting a brilliant fighting pose, while the wyvern croaked behind them.
“Can Your Majesty blow the fog away with his wings?” Victor asked his invisible master.
“Of course.” Nothing easier for a dragon.
“Okay then, rangers, follow me, we’ll scout ahead.” Victor wandered into the fog, followed by the minions.
Vainqueur prepared to take flight and show the weather who was the master around here, but struggled somewhat to do so. As he flapped his wings, he ended up overdoing it and landing back on the sand within seconds.
Since he couldn’t see his wings anymore, he had trouble orienting himself. The dragon had never flown ‘blind’ in his life.
“Minion, how do I turn it off?” Vainqueur asked, but manling Victor had already vanished into the fog, “Minion? MINION!”
Victor somehow lost his way so badly, he ended up right where he wanted. He guessed these new luck points had worked out for him. While struggling to see within this dense mist, he had spent enough time at Lynette’s inn to recognize its shape. Victor guessed the mayor gathered the townsfolk here when the fog began to spread, for their own protection.
A very good decision, for the inn was under siege.
A dozen men armed to the teeth with bows, swords, and axes surrounded the place while led by an armored knight and a priest. Victor instantly recognized them as Vilmain and Gustave; much to his horror, he also noticed Henry Bright, gagged and chained to a horse near Vilmain. The scholar had sword scars all over his body, and lost a lot of weight.
Thankfully, the Scorchers hadn’t noticed Victor yet. “Rangers?” Victor’s voice lost itself in the fog. Damn, he had lost the kobolds. He hoped they were fine; monstrous critters or not, he couldn’t let them get killed by bandits.
Victor noticed Lynette and others through the inn’s windows. The townsfolk had barricaded themselves inside, watching the encroaching bandit band with apprehension.
“Hello, friends,” the priest announced himself. “I am Vilmain, François Vilmain. We come in peace. If you open the door and let us ransack the inn, we will let you leave unharmed!”
Victor hoped Lynette wasn’t dumb enough to believe him. After a minute of waiting, without the door unlocking, it turned out she wasn’t. “I will break the door,” Gustave said, carrying a heavy claymore with one hand and a large shield with the other.
“No, no need for that hassle, my friend,” Vilmain replied. “Since they have barricaded themselves in, I will set the place on fire with a [Fireball] and cook them alive. You and your men can kill those who try to escape.”
“Not fair, you will get all the experience.”
“I want my next Bowman Perk, sir,” one of the archers complained to Vilmain. “I will never miss anymore with it!”
“Yes, I understand, but it will be quick, and we have to move before the dragon finds his way in.” The priest turned towards Victor, apparently seeing him fine within the unnatural weather. “Well, would you look at that?”
Victor sighed, as a dozen Scorchers looked at him. He might as well try to buy time until Vainqueur could blow the fog away. “That’s the [Disorienting Fog] spell, isn’t it? Pretty high level spell. I didn’t expect a level thirteen Bishop to have access it. The last spellcaster I saw use it was in his mid-twenties.”
“Familiar spell? I would expect a Nightblade to know of it.” Vilmain insisted on the mention of the criminal syndicate. “My class, Fell Bishop, allows me to cast powerful spells by sacrificing people to my dark god. So we nabbed a peasant on our way here. ”
“That’s your fault by the way," Vilmain said, "We hoped you would leave the town to rescue poor Henry from us, but you didn’t, you shameless, honorless fiend. Abandoning a civilian to his death? How unheroic.”
“Yeah, trying to lure the brave knight away from the town you want to loot. That’s Outlaw trick number one. I was almost sure you already killed him.”
“Henry? No, it is always good to have an emergency sacrifice on hands, just in case. Don’t give me that glare, he sold you out first.”
That didn’t make it right.
So that was their plan? [Disorienting Fog] reduced sound within its radius and caused people to get lost within it. They thought they could use the weather to prevent the dragon from burning the place down from above without friendly fire. Simple, but effective.
Why did they insist on sacking Haudemer instead of sensibly fleeing Vainqueur though? Victor guessed they had another motive than pillaging. “Why the hell are you even sieging that inn instead of boarding ships and escaping the country?”
“In time,” Vilmain smirked, “But our employer, Brandon Maure of Ishfania, asked us to recover a certain magical apple buried under Haudemer. Once we have secured it, we will leave.”
The iPad? They were after iPad? Victor thought about handing it to them, but realized they would still kill everyone afterward. These guys killed as much for easy levels as gold.
Vilmain coughed, “So, if you’re a thief yourself, why not join us then? There’s more money to make by joining in the pillaging than fighting us, and a man taming a dragon is one I want on my team. Also, you will live.”
Yes, joining a group whose leaders had levels in Turncoat and Vile in their name was a brilliant idea. No way it could go wrong. That left fighting as the only option. Point for him: thanks to Vainqueur, he had powerful equipment, and the dragon would be here any second now…
Point for these two monsters: they were twice his level, and they had minions of their own.
Minions of their own? Damn, he was turning into Vainqueur.
Mmm… a wise man once said criminals were a cowardly, superstitious lot. “Allow me to make you a counteroffer.” Victor revealed his [Horn of Wyvern Summoning]. “Surrender now, and I won’t use this horn of dragon summoning to bring Vainqueur on your front door.”
Vilmain laughed. “I have the [Eye for Treasure Perk], my friend. That is a simple trinket for wyverns, nothing that can bind a great red dragon.”
“That’s what the false description would lead you to believe,” Victor lied. “And it worked that way until I unlocked its secret powers. How do you think I bound that dragon to my will in the first place?”
“Nonsense,” Gustave said, losing patience. “Enough talk. Join or die.”
While Vilmain and Gustave were too cunning to fall for it, Victor could see their minio—their men hesitate. He hoped their fear of Vainqueur outweighed their trust in their leaders.
“Your loss. Vainqueur, I summon thee!” Victor sounded the horn.
“Archers!” Gustave called, bowmen readying their weapons and preparing to shoot Victor. Meanwhile, Vilmain began to intone a spell. “At my signal—”
“Wait, above!” one of the men interrupted him.
The shadow of a winged dragon appeared above their heads, its features obscured by the fog.
“The dragon is here!” a bowman shouted, before immediately lowering his weapon in abject fear. The wyvern let out a screech through the fog. Immediately, one of the outlaws turned tail, and the rest lost their nerve.
“Wait, fall back into rank, cowards!” Gustave raised his blade, but his men had already started running away. Even Vilmain’s horse fled at the wyvern's sight, dragging Henry with it. "I will have your head for this!”
“Fine!” Vilmain declared, the two criminals left to their fate. “[Summon Lesser Demo—”
With a surge of speed he didn’t know he could achieve, Victor interrupted Vilmain with daggers in both hands. Reacting with lightning fast reflexes, the Fell Bishop parried one with a rapier, while Victor's other weapon slipped past his guard and stabbed him below the shoulder.
Victor sensed he may have a chance in close combat against Vilmain. The priest had more levels, but in a spellcasting, healer class.
Unfortunately, this was a two on one fight.
Gustave rushed to his ally’s side, tackling Victor with his shield. Victor’s [Sun Bracers] activated, empowering him with newfound strength and vitality. The blow almost tossed him to his back, but the Monster Squire managed to stay on his feet.
Without giving him a respite, Gustave swung his sword to try and bisect Victor, who dodged the strike. The Monster Squire, unable to harm his foe through his heavy armor, tried to work around him to get at Vilmain, but the cunning Gustave always blocked his path.
“[Skill Up]!” An unholy red glow surrounded Vilmain as he cast a spell, his free hand searching under his cloak. Victor guessed he looked for a potion to heal his wound.
Instead, he brought out a flintlock pistol and aimed at Victor.
Bringing a firearm to a sword fight? That cheater! Victor touched the [Firebomb Necklace] around his neck before Vilmain could pull the trigger. He had only three charges, so he better make them count. “Firebomb!”
The enchanted necklace activated, unleashing a sphere of fire with a crimson spark. The projectile hit Vilmain and interrupted him, but the flames didn’t spread to his clothes. The criminal must have cast a fire-resistance spell of some kind, in case Vainqueur broke past the fog.
Vilmain fired his flintlock like a maniac, clearly not caring about hitting his ally. Victor dived to the ground, a bullet killing an unlucky watcher by flying through a window.
Gustave, ever the pragmatist, tried to strike Victor before he could rise to his feet, with the Monster Squire retaliating with another charge of his necklace. The Scorcher hid behind his shield, tanking the projectile like a champ.
Yeah, the chief of staff couldn’t beat that knight on his own.
“No!” Victor cursed out loud over internalizing his new job, rising back to his feet and dashing at Vilmain. He managed to get past his accomplice's defense, moving between both Scorchers. Gustave tried to intercept him, but the wyvern, which had been circling them from above, fell upon him like a hawk. Her claws and fangs struck his armor without piercing it.
Unable to reload fast enough, Vilmain threw away his pistol and struck with his rapier. Victor deflected the blade before it could pierce his heart, but the sword hit his left flank and drew blood.
Damn, what was that greedy dragon doing? Ignoring his reservations against killing humans, Victor stabbed the bishop back. His dagger pierced him through the left eye, splattering the criminal’s face with blood.
It didn’t kill Vilmain, but it angered him. And behind Victor, Gustave had cut one of the wyvern’s wings with his sword, pinned her to the ground with his shield, and prepared to finish the beast off.
Vilmain incanted a spell, moving his free hand against Victor’s torso. Cackles of dark energy built around his fingers…
And then five Kobolds jumped out of the fog from behind, grabbing Vilmain’s arms, legs, and head. “For His Majesty!” they shouted at once, biting the priest’s flesh and interrupting his spell.
Congratulations! By ambushing a stronger enemy in the middle of a fight, your Kobolds have each gained a level in the [Outlaw] Class!
“The power!” Red said, stabbing Vilmain in the other eye with his tiny claws. “I can feel the power!”
“My eyes!” Vilmain screamed in agony as he struggled to get the kobolds off him. As the criminal lost his hold over his rapier, Victor dropped one of his daggers and stole the sword. He then stabbed the bishop back in the chest with his own weapon.
The Fell Bishop fell on his back with a painful gasp, the kobolds still biting and clawing at him.
“Vilmain, you weakling!” Having killed the wyvern with a swing of his sword, Gustave charged at Victor to save his ally. Distracted by the pain in his chest, the Monster Squire couldn’t dodge in time and Gustave hit him with his shield.
Crack! The blow propelled Victor against the inn’s walls, his left shoulder going numb after a brief moment of sharp pain.
“Chief!” Yellow attempted to defend Victor, only for Gustave to cut him in half with his sword. With another merciless swing, he struck down Blue.
The other kobolds immediately attempted to fight back, but they were no match for the knight. Gustave kicked Pink right in the face like a puppy, knocked out Red with his shield, and backhanded Black when he tried to flank him. The confrontation had lasted mere seconds.
“Can you heal yourself?” Gustave asked Vilmain, who crawled on the ground, struggling to get back up while covered up in his own blood.
“I exhausted… my special points with all the… interrupted spells.” Vilmain coughed. “I will need help… to walk.”
Without remorse, Gustave struck his own ally in the back with his blade, killing him in one blow.
“Sorry, friend, I wanted that new level more than I liked you.” An unholy aura surrounded the treacherous knight, empowering Gustave further. Victor used the last firebomb, the necklace disintegrating with its last charge exhausted. The projectile slipped past Gustave’s guard and hit him in the chest.
The knight didn’t even flinch at the resulting blast.
A rumbling sound echoed through the fog. Had the citizens of the city decided to fight back against the Scorchers? Victor couldn’t know, and wouldn’t live long enough to. With his chest wound and a limp shoulder, he couldn’t hope to dodge Gustave’s sword.
“[Attack Stance],” Gustave tossed away his shield to wield his sword with both hands. The murderous aura around him increased in strength, the sheer pressure paralyzing Victor. “And now, I will take my sweet time cutting yo—”
Gustave collapsed into a puddle of blood, crushed by an invisible behemoth.
“Minions? MINIONS! Where are you?” The knight’s blood splattered Vainqueur’s invisible scales. “Minion, there you are!”
For a split second, Victor couldn’t find his words.
“I cannot see where I go, and I cannot turn it off! How do I turn the invisibility off?”
“You must say ‘blink’ again, Your Majesty…”
Vainqueur marked a short pause, then said, “Blink!” The invisibility veil suddenly lifting off the dragon. The beast took a few seconds to look at his own scales, without any hint of narcissism whatsoever. “Much better.”
The great dragon expanded his wings, unleashing a powerful gust by flapping them. The wind lifted the fog and unveiled a trail of destroyed houses which Vainqueur left behind. The invisible dragon had damaged the city more than the Scorchers themselves.
At least no civilians had died.
“Ah, clear as day,” Vainqueur said. “I can at long last hunt the thieves.”
Victor glanced at Gustave's remains, stuck under Vainqueur’s left foot. The dragon hadn’t even noticed. “That won’t be necessary, Your Majesty,” he said, as Lynette and the townsfolk exited the inn, the danger now gone. “Except stragglers, most fled at your coming.”
“I will have my stipend!” Vainqueur complained, before hunting for Scorchers, leaving blood behind with each step. “Sweet manlings, where are you? Come out, I do not bite… not always…”
“Victor, are you alright?” Lynette rushed to the Squire’s side, forcing a green potion to his lips before he could answer. As Victor drank it, finding the taste sweet, he felt the pain vanish, and his shoulder could move again.
Unfortunately, the kobolds hadn’t been as lucky as him, mourning their fallen comrades. “What do we do?” Black said, tears in his eyes. “Yellow… Yellow was the best minion out of us all… I should have died…”
“We sell them,” Red cried. “That was what they would have wanted.”
“Come again?” Victor asked, blinking.
“We sell them to make Master Vainqueur’s hoard bigger,” Pink said, Black and Red nodding with sorrow. “That way they will be part of it forever…”
Victor figured out he had experienced a strong culture clash.
Congratulations! For fearlessly leading monsters to victory against superior opponents, you earned seven levels in [Monster Squire]! +120 HP, +70 SP, + 5 STR, + 4 VIT, + 4 SKI, +5 AGI, +6 INT, +6 CH, +7 LCK! You earned the [Monster Lifeforce (Red Dragon)], [Monster Rider], and [Monster Insight] Perks!
[Monster Lifeforce (Red Dragon)]: the blood of your dragon liege flows in your veins. You gain the additional creature Type: Dragon, which is both a blessing and a curse. You gain immunity to Drain, Paralysis, Fatigue, Insta-death, Disease, and resistance to Fire and Aging. You gain vulnerability to Frost, Fairy, and Dragonslayer.
[Monster Rider]: You can now ride monsters with medium proficiency. If the target is a minion, your proficiency increases to good.
[Monster Insight]: When you observe a monster, you gain a vision of their strengths, weaknesses, and tidbits of information.
Seven levels at once? It almost made up for the deaths and the blood loss. A glance at the rapier he pilfered from Vilmain told him he had also gained some interesting loot out of it.
“I have no idea how to reward you, Victor,” said Lynette. “You were very brave out there.”
Oh, and hell, why not. He had nothing to lose, except his dignity.
“Do you want to breed?” he asked Lynette.