As dawn rose on Haudemer, Vainqueur allowed himself to rest on his back in front of the city’s entrance.
He had spent the night hunting down the last of his walking punching bags, shoring up all the experience he could. His stomach hurt from the manling indigestion.
Congratulations! For crushing the Scorchers and stylishly stomping on the enemy leader before an adoring crowd, you earned four [Gladiator] levels! +120 HP, + 8 STR, + 1 VIT, + 4 SKI, +4 AGI, +4 CH, +3 LCK!
You gained the [Crowd Favorite] and [Supercrit] class Perks!
[Crowd Favorite]: You gain a temporary, random boost to one of your statistics when you impress a crowd, alongside the small chance of gaining an item.
[Supercrit]: Double the chances of your physical attacks inflicting critical hits.
Small chance to get an item if he impressed his fans? Sweet! He should find his minions and try it out.
However, what did they mean by stomping on the enemy leader? Vainqueur looked under his left foot, noticing a lump of flesh stuck between two of his claws. “Strange,” he commented, licking his claws to taste the sweet meat.
The dragon decided to turn invisible, so he could see if other manling parts had stuck somewhere else. “Blink.” He was gone.
“Blink!” And now he wasn’t! “Blink, blink, blinkblink!”
Vainqueur found turning his invisibility on and off strangely amusing. He could spend all day doing it.
However, the ruckus of horses stampeding interrupted his game. Vainqueur wondered if the bandits had come for another round of ‘honorable demise by dragon.’ That would confirm his theory about manlings having a collective deathwish.
Instead, two hundred riders, clad in the finest armor and wearing the shiniest weapons, rushed towards him. Most of them wore a sun emblem emblazoned on their armor, but a few of them carried flags representing a golden lion on a red background.
Knights. Lots of manling and beastkin knights.
Maybe they had a princess he could add to his hoard?
The knights stopped in a line facing Vainqueur, who didn’t even bother rising up. It wasn’t like they could do anything to him, and he was full enough to just burn them to oblivion if they tried.
Their leader, a female manling riding a white unicorn, stood in front of the line to address him. She had these long, fashionable golden hair, the same color of Vainqueur’s own beautiful eyes, and tiny blue spots for a gaze. She wore a purple hermine. “So it is true,” she said with a shrieking voice whom the dragon immediately disliked. “Haudemer has been occupied by a great red dragon.”
“Indeed I am,” Vainqueur answered that waste of skin. “Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of his Name, Great Calamity of this Age and King of the Albain Mountains. But you may call me Your Majesty.”
“There is no king of the mountains,” the upstart manling replied, before answering with her own presentation. “I am duchess Aelinor of Euskal, second removed cousin of King Gard—”
“Not a princess,” Vainqueur interrupted her, annoyed at her forgetting the ‘Your Majesty’ part.
The petulant woman glared back at him. “I beg your pardon?”
“Not a princess,” Vainqueur repeated with contempt since the food was slow-minded. She didn’t smell like a princess, and instead had the scent of disappointment. Also, he was too good to speak directly to that creature. “Minion? Minion?! MINION, GET BACK HERE! The food is talking back!”
Where was his official animal translator when Vainqueur needed him?
The manling’s face turned red for some reason. “Vainqueur Knightsbane,” Somehow she made his noble name sound like an insult. “Our forces and the Shining Crusade have defeated the last of the Scorchers and retaken the citadel of Rochefronde from Ishfania. Only François Vilmain and Gustave la Muraille escaped judgment, and I intend to bring them justice and flames.”
Vainqueur knew nothing about Rochefronde, but according to the minion, they killed both of those manlings somewhere. “Done,” the dragon replied. “Also, your flames are weaker than mine, so no need to humiliate yourself.”
“Inspect the city for confirmation after we are done with him,” the manling told one of the knights, before turning her attention back on the dragon, “Vainqueur Knightsbane, you are wanted for the uncalled destruction of the Woods of Gevaudan, property damage, and the devastation of the local Euskalian countryside. A century-old bounty of one hundred twenty thousand gold coins on your head has been issued again!”
Finally, the false news about his demise had been invalidated! However… “One hundred twenty thousand?” Vainqueur asked for a confirmation, disappointed, “That is all? I order you rescind it.”
“Order me?” her face got even redder, almost as much as Vainqueur’s own scales. “Do you deny the charges against you?”
“No, but I am worth more,” Vainqueur replied, getting annoyed by the lack of a translator. Miscommunications, especially about their respective places in the order of things, clearly piled up somewhere. “I am at least worth one million gold coins, and I am being incredibly modest here. Tell your mammal king to correct my net worth.”
“Are you insulting the god-chosen king of Gardemagne?” One of the knights raised his spear. “You vile creature, the Shining Crusade stands before you! You will burn in the fires of Lord Mithras for your pride!”
An aura of dread permeates the area, as the weight of the gods’ judgment falls upon you. [Terror] ailment—
“Apologize to me at once,” Vainqueur countered, his patience wearing thin.
But it failed miserably! [Terror] canceled by [Dragon Arrogance]!
“Apologize to you?” The noble manling’s eyes snapped open in uncalled defiance. “What for?”
“This is my world. I do not remember giving any of you my royal permission to live in it. Also, you should apologize for your weakness, because I have no idea how you can live with yourself.”
The manling leader twitched, and so did the knights.
Congratulations! For browbeating the upstart food with words alone, you gained the [Taunt] Personal Perk.
[Taunt]: Your soul-crushing, humiliating taunts have a small chance of inflicting the [Berserk] status on their targets. You monster.
Taunt? He was just stating the obvious.
“You are an arrogant creature,” the manling lady rasped like a snake, amazed at being in the presence of a true dragon.
“I am Vainqueur Knightbane, King of the Albain Mountains, the greatest adventurer in the world!” Vainqueur boasted, showing off the adventurer plate around his neck. “I am a god! No, wait, I am better. I am a dragon! Your puny gods answer to me! They pay me to kill your kind!”
“Blasphemy!” One of the knights snarled back, Vainqueur ignoring the animal’s yapping.
“Since I removed the trees around your land and protected this town from hostile manlings, I expect you to properly pay me for the service. I demand a wage of sixty-four thousand gold coins. Under the table, according to your manling reward ritual.”
“You… you are asking a duchess for a bribe in front of the holiest of knights?! Have you no shame?!”
“A dragon will never pay taxes!” the dragon roared proudly.
Congratulations! For defending your noble, unjust privileges, you gained two levels in [Noble]! +30 HP, +20 SP, +2 STR, +2 SKI, +2 AGI, +2 INT, +1 CHA, +2 LCK! You gained the [Aristoradar] Class Perk!
[Aristoradar]: You immediately notice other nobles, even undercover and false ones. No more bourgeois.
“I have had enough of this,” the noble lady said, raising her tiny hand. “Knights! Slay this stupid dragon!”
“You dare refuse to pay your due to your true King?” Now well and truly angered, Vainqueur rose back on his feet, the knights charging at him. He considered blowing them up with his breath, but decided to test his new Perks instead.
Raising his left, clawed finger, Vainqueur poked the first rider to reach him, crushing him and his horse at once and with enough force to cause the ground to shake beneath them. The knights stopped in horrified surprise.
Critical hit! [Crowd Favorite] activated!
Vainqueur’s eyes widened in joy, as a golden nugget materialized in a flash of light right in the middle of the knight’s remains.
“Aha, yes! Finally!” Vainqueur glanced at his left finger. That was the secret to gain new items! He just had to poke these upstarts one by one! The dragon rejoiced, as the brave knights rushed at him, eager to make the dragon live up to his name.
He would poke them all.
Victor still couldn’t believe it.
That pickup line actually worked!
“Excalibur?” Lynette asked, her hands reaching to draw most of her bed’s sheet to herself.
“Don’t ask,” Victor replied, resting on the left side of the bed. All the stress and tension of following an insane dragon had vanished.
That world rocked!
Congratulations! For finally getting laid and experiencing the thrill of a short-lived fling, you gained the Perk [Romantic]! You gain a +5 Charisma Bonus when interacting with the opposite sex!
“Very nice,” Victor said, “Sorry for being so… upfront about it.”
“Oh, no, actually, I’m very happy about it,” Lynette replied, her body resting against his. “For a second, I thought you would ask gold of me.”
Why did Victor had the sudden feeling he had just been shortchanged? “So, it’s…”
“Just a transaction, nothing more.”
Victor should have expected that from a worshipper of the goddess of commerce. “At least I got a Perk out of it.”
Victor squinted at her. “How do you know?”
“I have the higher rank of that Perk, [Seducer]. You have to sleep with twenty different people to get it, and one hundred for the upgraded version. I am still dozens away from that one.”
“D-did you sleep with me for a Perk?”
“Just a transaction,” she smiled, “Nothing more.”
Yeah, he had been BEEPED in more ways than one. Capitalism struck again.
As he left his ‘damsel in distress’ to rest and got dressed, Victor took it back. That world sucked.
Closing the bedroom door behind him, Victor found the three kobolds waiting for him outside, alongside Jules the Necromancer. By now, the inn’s clients had gotten used to him bringing monsters around whenever he went.
“Chief, chief!” Red said, he and Black carrying the corpses of their fallen comrades on their back. “Sorry to interrupt your murder attempt.”
Murder? Ah. These poor children. They had looked through the keyhole. Victor was too relaxed to scold them. “Hi, Jules. You’re here for business?”
“Yes, yes, I need your signature for the new raw material Lord Vainqueur gathered. Your servants also informed me you were open to the idea of selling their dead companions; I commend you for your dedication to recycling.”
“Since Yellow and Blue are gone, we are two members short for the choreography,” Red complained. “We cannot serve His Majesty Vainqueur without one. We must look for recruits, stylish and colored…”
“Oh, could we look for a green and a white this time?” Black asked his leader. “We need brand new colors.”
“And a sixth with shining silver scales,” Pink squirmed. “A young, virile male.”
“No yellow or blue will ever replace our fallen comrades,” Red said gravely. “We shall look for new colors, and create a rainbow so we may showcase the great Vainqueur’s luster!”
“About that, Jules, is there a way to bring them back to life?” Victor asked the necromancer. “Not as mindless undead, but true revival.”
“True resurrection is a power far beyond my level, and that of anyone alive today,” Jules replied, much to Victor’s disappointment. “You may turn to the goddess Shesha, but she charges a harsh price for it. However… are you under level twenty?”
“I’ve just reached seventeen yesterday.”
“Then it should be easy to take a level in the [Necromancer] Class, and use its starting Perk, [Animate Dead], to revive your servants as undead. After you reach level twenty, the experience penalties will make it significantly harder, so it may be now or never.”
“Can’t you do it yourself? I can pay if you accept magical items.”
“I only raise non-intelligent undead for ethical reasons. [Animate Dead] will bring the lucky fellows back as intelligent ones, including the original soul, if you sacrifice coins or some of your items.”
“Chief, no!” Red protested. “They gladly gave their life for you!”
“You saved my life,” Victor replied. “I owe you that.”
They had also gained class levels out of it, which complicated matters; while convincing monsters to fight more monsters sounded appealing on paper, his experience with Vainqueur made him fear the consequences. Neither did he want the critters to end up as Vainqueur’s emergency rations. Maybe he would better send them on a non-dangerous errand for their safety?
While he didn’t like taking a level in a dark class, Victor decided the kobolds, monsters or other, had earned a raise.
Congratulations! For working with a necromancer to enter the death market, you gained a level in the [Necromancer] class! +10 SP, +1 SKI, +1 AGI, +1 INT, +1 CHA, +1 LCK!
You gained the [Animate Dead] Class Perk!
[Animate Dead]: You can revive corpses as undead with a touch. By sacrificing money or items, you can revive a living being as an intelligent undead, retaining both the original soul and class levels. The funds needed to revive someone depends on the soul’s value, whom you intuitively understand.
With a glance, Victor instantly guessed the two kobolds were worth a few hundred coins each; more than he owned. He removed his sun bracers, each worth as much, and activated the Perk.
An unholy, purple glow filled the room, turning the bracers to dust. The dark aura then moved to the broken remains of the two dead kobolds, binding them back together, and consuming the flesh.
Much to Victor’s silent disturbance, the two skeletons rose back on their own, their bones having changed color to yellow and blue respectively. An unholy glow shone in their eye sockets.
Your Kobold minions have been revived as Kobones!
“Blue, Yellow?” Red asked as the undead turned at him. “Are you… alright?”
“Flesh…” Blue’s voice had turned into a cavernous, terrible voice. “Flesh…”
What? “Has the Perk failed?” Victor frowned.
“Nah, I’m kidding chief,” the Blue skeleton replied, regaining his original voice and letting out a strange chuckle. How the skeleton managed to do that without lungs was beyond Victor. “Still the same old me, except now I can see my clavicule.”
“This new voice is awesome! Let me try!” Yellow chirped, his voice turning from his original one to the same cavernous echo. “I am Ranger Yellow, and you have met your dooooooom… doooooooom…”
“Red, I am your father,” Blue said with the same voice in a pretty good interpretation of Earl Jones. “Neat!”
They took their transformation into undead skeletons pretty well. “Blue, Yellow!” Red embraced the reborn minions. “You are back!”
“Yes, and I don’t feel my stomach ulcer anymore,” Yellow said, returning to his normal voice. “Being undead is marvelous!”
Victor smiled at the scene. While annoying as hell, Vainqueur and the Kobolds did save his life and the city. Maybe he had been wrong to distrust them. Maybe they could do good, all of them.
Maybe he could get used to this new life…
Then a knight flew through one of the inn’s windows and crashed against a wall, dashing Victor’s hopes.
Victor glanced at the broken man, and took a long, deep breath. “Minions, help Jules with his business,” he told the kobolds while his fingers went for his trusty canteen and he took a sip of alcohol.
When another knight flew through a second window, and a third hit the wall outside, the adventurer decided not to stop at a sip. “Well, well, well,” Jules rejoiced, clapping his hands. “This association keeps getting better and better…”
“Minion?” An unpleasant voice came from outside the inn. “MINION!”
Sighing and out of alcohol to drown his sorrow, Victor calmly exited the inn, his hand on the new rapier around his belt. He had also taken Vilmain’s flintlock with him as a trophy but didn’t think he would make much use of it.
As expected, he found Vainqueur waiting for him right in front of the building. A good two dozen knights laid broken and defeated around town, the sight fitting the aftermath of a deadly drunken brawl. They bore the insignia of the Shining Crusade.
There died his hopes of getting rescued by a knight in shining armor.
Surprisingly though, the dragon had come back with a pile of treasures in his hands. “Minion, look at what they gave me!” Vainqueur proudly showed his new shinies, from gold purses to magic items.
“What happened?” Victor asked.
“I poked them,” Vainqueur replied, licking his left finger.
“All of them?” Why did Victor sound so bored? The disaster had numbed him to the dragon’s insanity.
“This is the critical hit finger, minion.” Vainqueur showed him his left hand’s index claw. “Every time I kill a manling with it before your brethren, they reward me for it!”
Yeah right. While at it, Victor decided to try his new [Monster Insight] Perk on his ‘master.’
Elder Red Dragon (Dragon)
Vulnerable to: Frost, Fairy, and Dragonslayer.
Strong against: everything else.
Self-proclaimed ‘best dragon’, a great red wyrm who is more than a match for the strongest of adventurers. His immense strength is matched only by his arrogance and lack of common sense. Kind of greedy, vain, and self-absorbed, but secretly insecure about his minions leaving him.
“Done,” Vainqueur replied happily, “We can finally move on from this stinking town. I miss bathing in my hoard.”
“Ah?” Victor raised an eyebrow, curious. “What happened, you poked her too?”
The dragon scrapped his teeth with a claw. “I ate her.”
Victor’s mind stopped working. “You what?”
“I ate her. Although I think she would have tasted better with that sweet poison sauce.”
“You ate the quest giver.” And a high-ranking noble in the kingdom.
“Do not worry for the gold, I recovered the reward first,” Vainqueur ‘reassured’ him, before belching.
“W-why?” Victor choked. “Why did Your Majesty do that?”
“Because she was annoying, would not pay me, and wasn’t a princess,” Vainqueur replied angrily. “Also, she tasted like pork.”
Victor looked at the dragon, words dying in his throat.
“Minion, do not look at me like that. There is more enough beastkins laying around for a barbecue if you are hungry.”