Holy hell… Victor thought as he watched the fireworks from the foot of the mountain. The crater above appeared in the middle of a fiery eruption, fireballs and clouds of rancid smoke flying out while the earth trembled.
While not religious at all, the adventurer prayed to the twelve gods that Vainqueur didn’t start an actual eruption while rampaging. “Guys…”
“Chief…” Red and the other kobolds cowered at the sight, hiding behind the hill of lead Vainqueur’s hoard had turned into.
“I think it would be best never to mention the event ever again around Vainqueur.” The critters all nodded at once. “He will calm down eventually, but when he does, we will show our beloved dragon ruler full emotional support, and carefully avoid the word ‘lead’ until we die. This is for everyone’s own good.”
Victor glanced at the mess around him; he had managed to make a semi-respectable emergency landing without Vainqueur’s support in the badlands, stashing the hoard there. Not that he thought anybody wanted to steal it now.
Maybe they should consider becoming plumber adventurers? It worked out for Mario.
“Chief, what do we do?” Blue asked him, terrified and looking for guidance.
“Right now… well, you have family here, right?” The critters nodded. “Go visit them, or practice your choreography. Take some time off.”
“But chief,” Pink protested, “We can’t abandon Master Vainqueur when he needs help!”
The ground trembled with another fiery detonation. Victor looked back at the mountain, noticing huge monsters fleeing the volcano. It appeared the local horrors had wisely decided to bolt the hell out of the region. One giant worm flew over the crater's edge, probably tossed out by Vainqueur.
How long did dragons rampage? Days? Or would he calm down if he managed to kill Furibon?
“Right,” Victor said. “Look, ‘Master Vainqueur’ is too furious to act rational, and he isn’t calming down anytime soon. Consider this a vacation. You earned it after all your good work so far.”
As the kobolds and kobones kept exchanging glances, Victor suddenly realized these professional minions had no concept of a vacation. They literally lived to serve bigger creatures and didn't understand life outside it.
“Okay, look, minions, I am giving you a secret mission. Do you remember Vainqueur’s glorious vision about V&V?” Merely mentioning the name gave him cancer. “You said the local minion job market is crowded, and His Majesty has a shortage of them. So, fetch us more minions.”
“Chief, are…” They looked about to cry, even the undead ones. “Are you replacing us?”
“No, in fact, you are now no longer interns, nor even new minions, but minion lieutenants,” Victor improvised. “You will be the admins serving under me, but above new minions. The elite of our adventurer guild.”
“We… we’ve been promoted!” The tears quickly turned to joy, with Red outright jumping on place. “Promoted!”
“So go find more interns.” Victor made a dramatic gesture. “They will be your responsibility though, so accept only the best.”
“Yes, chief!” They bolted off so fast, Victor’s eyes could barely follow them.
Truth to be told, Victor actually started to enjoy leading minions around. He mostly blamed it on Stockholm Syndrome and Vainqueur rubbing off on him the wrong way, but it felt nice to be obeyed, rather than obeying.
Damn, he was turning into a dragon.
That, and after that stunt with the duchess, Victor was all but trapped with Vainqueur. Without the dragon's protection, he would no longer be able to set foot in Gardemagne without being executed. More minions meant less people likely to pick a fight with him.
Now alone, Victor decided to visit the one village around, in case he could buy supplies. He was aware of the minions’ warnings about the place, but he could probably handle it on his own if he was careful.
From afar, it appeared the town had less than two hundred people living there. It was a small farming community, with Victor recognizing olive, citrus, and stranger fruits orchards, even a vineyard. The large stone houses could accommodate entire extended families, reminding Victor of American ranches.
Also, he noticed that they had a lot more sheep than they should need.
Besides these details and the pervasive scent of dogs, even if he couldn't see any, the village seemed relatively normal. Victor approached it warily, and two locals immediately came to greet him.
The two looked like a couple of ranch hillbillies, one male in his late twenties and a girl a bit younger than Victor himself. Both were brown-skinned, with eyes of the same color, and similar enough that Victor assumed they must have been part of the same family.
"Hi there, traveler," the man spoke up. Powerfully built, with a mane of black hair and dirty, rancher clothes, he looked straight out of a Clint Eastwood Western. "I'm Croissant and this is my sister, Chocolatine. Welcome to Murmurin."
"Hello, handsome," said the girl, a pretty creature with semi-long coffee hair and dressed like Little Red Riding Hood, "You're an adventurer coming to hunt the dragon, right? Right?"
Victor had the strange feeling a lot of eyes were observing him. "Hunt the dragon?"
Croissant pointed a finger at the volcano. "A dragon just made its lair in our mountain and is frightening the livestock. If you could kill it, that would help us a lot."
“No, I’m a lead merchant,” Victor deadpanned.
“Lead?” Croissant repeated, confused.
“Lead. I love lead. Are you all vampires?”
“What? Of course not! Vampires are vile, tasteless things! Nobody likes them!” Tasteless… odd choice of words. “Why the sudden accusations, stranger?”
“My Kobolds interns told me of bad moon mojo around here, and you’re a creepy village in the middle of nowhere. I’ve watched movies, and I can defend myself.”
Victor suddenly realized that wording made no sense, but the duo seemed to understand. More and more suspicious, the adventurer decided to use [Monster Insight] on them, just in case.
Strong against Moon, Beast, Madness and Fairy effects.
Weak against Silver, Manslayer, and Beastslayer effects.
Older brother of Chocolatine, and a werewolf; can turn into a giant wolf-hybrid at will, but goes berserk during the full moon. Kind of rough around the edges, especially if you mention Gevaudan. Oh man, you are so BEEPED if you mention Gevaudan. Almost as BEEPED as if you BEEP his sister.
Strong against Moon, Beast, Madness and Fairy effects.
Weak against Silver, Manslayer, and Beastslayer effects.
Pretty little riding hood, foe to all grandmothers everywhere, and sister of Croissant. A priestess of the beast god Isengrim, she looks sweet and innocent while being anything but. Finds you very appetizing due to your big charisma boost, and wonders whether she should cook you with a stew or with pepper sauce.
“Ah, werewolves! Bad moon, of course you would be werewolves.”
“Wait, are you…” Croissant trailed, before turning to his sister. “Is he one of us?”
Chocolate said a few words, apparently casting a spell on Victor. She smiled happily at once. “It’s okay, brother, he’s a monster, too! A Humanoid/Dragon Type!”
“Oh by the Moon Man, for a second I thought you were a homeless person nobody would miss,” said Croissant, horrified. “We avoided a terrible mistake. I’m so sorry.”
What the— “You were going to kill me?”
“Not us,” Croissant shrugged. “Some of the villagers often feed strangers to the Moon Man’s eldritch children, and they think the dragon is punishment for being late with the current sacrifice. I do not condone it, but we are an open-minded community, you know? I hope you can forgive us for the misunderstanding.”
Of course! It made Victor feel so much better!
“Guys, it’s okay!” Croissant shouted in the settlement's direction. “He’s a monster, too! You can drop the disguises!”
Victor heard sighs of relief, and watched, astonished, as the locals exited their houses.
Half of them looked human enough, although [Monster Insight] informed him most of them were werewolves or shapeshifters, like Doppelgangers; the other half, not so much. Victor noticed a large family of pallid ghouls, a squid-human hybrid with a calmar-like head, a rusty steel golem, and two dozen other creatures straight out of a bestiary.
The entire village was populated with humanoid-looking monsters.
Victor blinked, as he recognized a familiar figure among them, a tall Lizardkin with sandy scales, sharp fangs, and long claws. The humanoid lizard had short back swept horns and a barbed tail, but kept most of her powerfully built body beneath brown and green traveler robes. As usual, she carried a sash full of potions and various spices, and had the Nightblades’ black sword tattoo on the left side of her face. “Savoureuse?” Victor called her. “Sav, is that you?”
“Vic?” The beast took a few steps out of the crowd to get a better view of him. Besides having tanned a little, she was exactly the same as in his memories, with those warm, green reptilian eyes. “Hey, Vic!”
“Hey, Sav!” Victor waved at her. She had briefly been his friend during his brief tenure as a professional thief, showing him the tricks of the trade. “Long time to no see! What are you doing here?”
“Business.” She winked at him. “We’re discussing with the locals to set up a warehouse there, so the Nightblades’ guildmasters sent me.”
“Nice, sounds like a good vacation.”
“Aha, it’s good to take a break from waste collecting sometimes. Shame you left us, Vic, you were an excellent repossessor.”
Ah, the old naming conventions. ‘Repossession’ instead of theft, ‘waste-collecting’ for assassination, and ‘community contribution’ for extortion. No wonder Victor left the criminal syndicate the second he could get away with it.
“By the way Vic, why didn’t you tell me you were a dragon monster in disguise? I’m almost insulted you managed to hide it from me.”
“It’s a pretty recent change,” Victor replied. “So what is this, a secret humanoid monster community?”
“Yes and no, we disguise as humans to avoid inquisitors and adventurers who often wander in the region,” Croissant explained. “They always try to wipe us out otherwise.”
“So we kill them in their sleep first,” Chocolatine chirped with a sweet, happy smile that sent shivers down Victor’s spine.
“We also have something of a school for mimics and other shapeshifters, so they can learn to blend in within a safe, family-friendly environment,” said Croissant, before he moved to firmly shake Victor’s hand. “Victor, is that it? Nice to meet you, what kind of monster are you?”
“I’m a dragon’s chief of staff,” Victor explained, a few of the locals whistling.
“That dragon’s?” Croissant glanced at the volcano.
"Yeah. We came to take over the castle, but the current owner pulled a prank on my ‘master,’ who didn’t take it well."
“Owner? Furibon? Even with no flesh anymore, he’s a giant dick.” Victor couldn’t help but laugh at Croissant's stupid joke. The werewolf’s tone implied this wasn’t the first time the lich caused them trouble. “I heard he was so annoying a fomor transformed him into a cave troll, before he turned himself into a lich. He leaves us mostly alone, so we do not bother him either, but he’s very open to us supplying adventurers trying to challenge him."
"I think he’s bored and lonely in his castle," Chocolatine said with a conspiratorial tone.
“So, Vic, it was true what I heard?” asked Savoureuse. “You fed the Duchess of Euskal to a dragon?”
“Did you?” Chocolatine had stars in her eyes.
“I…” Well… technically he did bullshit Vainqueur into hunting down the Scorchers instead of the Kraken, which indirectly led to that disaster. “You could say that…”
Croissant frowned. “That’s a bit over the top, no?”
“I don’t understand, Vic, have you left us, or have you not left us?” asked Savoureuse. “Because feeding a noble to a dragon is very Nightbladish to me.”
“I guess my current job isn’t that different from the old one,” Victor admitted.
“Anyway,” Croissant butted in. “We’re happy to welcome you to our community. How long will you stay?”
“I dunno, as long as the dragon stays here. Maybe longer.” If Vainqueur did kill Furibon and managed to claim the promised reward, then they might settle in the region. “Why that question?”
“Eh, they’re a small community, and they want more people to avoid inbreeding,” Savoureuse replied. “They have a nice open door policy for newcomers. Isn’t that right, Croissant?”
“Yeah, we’re recent settlers, too. We used to live in the Woods of Gevaudan, in Gardemagne. Ah, times were good. Best hunting grounds we ever had, so much food around.”
The woods of...
“But that was before some dumbass human and their pet red dragon burned it to the ground while hunting trol—”
Croissant stopped mid-sentence, then glared suspiciously at Victor.