Sand. Sand. Sand.

Walking cactus!

Oh, it was dead.

Sand. Sand. Sand…

Vainqueur forced himself not to fall asleep out of boredom in the middle of the flight. He was sick of this endless desert, carrying his chief of staff in one hand, and a big, goatskin bag for princesses in the other. “Why am I flying invisible again?” the dragon asked his minion, who had insisted Vainqueur use his ‘Blinkblink’ ring. “And why didn't we bring the other minions?”

“Because otherwise Brandon Maure will have us shot on sight, and my [Cowl of the Reaper] grants me some camouflage.” The minion sounded tired, and just as bored as his master. “It’s better to travel light.”

“Minion, I meant why I should care if that fiend notices?”

“Because we are on a princess rescue mission, which means we need to be discreet. Otherwise, Maure will evacuate them elsewhere, and we may not know where this time.”

At long last, Vainqueur finally noticed their destination when he squinted his eyes at the horizon.

A rock the size of the Albain mountains’ tallest peak floated above the desert, a fortress-city built from red, bloody bricks; greenish stones below the flying structure released a whirlwind of swirling sandstorms keeping the city afloat. Vainqueur noticed a few flying creatures patrolling the skies near it, each of whom would make for passable snacks.

Instead of rejoicing at finally reaching their destination, Manling Victor let out a heavy, crushed sigh.

“Minion, why are you so down?” Manling Victor also sounded a lot less enthusiastic about this adventure than Vainqueur thought he would. Come to think of it, he hadn’t argued about Vainqueur bringing a princess bag, while the minion usually worried about everything. “Have you bred yet?”

“No. I tried.” The minion sighed, crestfallen. “But as it turns out, Allison likes girls…”

The dryad? “Minion, I am not that strict about minion harassment. You have my imperial permission to bestow your eggs on Manling Charlene, for example.”

“I’m pretty sure Croissant got there first.”

“Then eat him.” Vainqueur would have sworn the minion looked up at his master in confusion, but he couldn't tell with the cowl. “You are a chief of staff, he is below you in the food chain. If he bothers you, eat him. I have never devoured a werewolf before, but they must taste like a cerberus, strong and thick.”

“Your Majesty has eaten cerberi?”

“When I fought the fomors as a young wyrm with the rest of dragonkind. They kept sending monsters like cerberi to die to me back in those days.” Eventually, the fairy lords paid Vainqueur and his kin a large tribute of gold as an apology for falsely claiming to have created the world first.

Speaking of food, what was that scent in the wind? “I can sense we are being followed.” Vainqueur hummed the air. “It smells like a big bird, with a manling on its back.”

“Huh? We should be wary, it could be one of Maure’s men—”

“[Solar Judgment!]”

A beam of light hit Vainqueur in the back by surprise, the blast making him crash into the dry sand below.

[Solar Judgment] bypassed your [Fire Immunity]! You have taken heavy damage!

Once again, he felt that itchy sensation… “Minion, I do not feel well in my back,” Vainqueur said, opening his palm to find his chief of staff safe and sound. “What is this?”

“I think that it is pain, Your Majesty!”

Pain? Of course not, only mammals suffered from it.

Vainqueur glanced up at the one responsible for his back itches, a manling knight in heavy green armor. The treacherous creature rode the back of a golden lion, with the head, wings, and talons of an eagle.

A griffon! And an adult, meaty one at that!

“I doubted your guilt until I scanned your classes, Victor. [Monster Squire] and [Reaper]!” The knight pointed a shining blade at Vainqueur, who could tell it was a cursed fairy work meant to kill dragons. According to the voice, the knight was a female manling. “The unholy scion of a thief of souls and a necromancer, with a dash of scum! And your perks! [Helheim], [Channel Hellfire]! You reek of evil!”

“That armor…” the minion trailed, as the dust settled. “Holy shit, level sixty-six?”

“I am Kia Bekele, the Shining Knight of Gardemagne! Prepare to die, miscreants!”

Annoyed at the greenish knight not announcing his imperial name next, Vainqueur just blasted the bird out the skies with a fireball.

“[Bravewind!]” Much to the dragon’s surprise, the bird and its rider flew out of the way of his flames, carried by strong winds. They dived down as Vainqueur kept trying to blast them, moving at speeds that even the dragon had a hard time following. Before he knew what hit him, the knight slashed at Vainqueur between the neck and the shoulder, cutting a scale.

[Arondight] inflicted doubly effective [Fairy] [Dragonslayer] damage!

Like that damn lich, the knight and her flying cattle retreated before the dragon could poke them. Manling Victor tried to assist his master by blasting bluish hellfire at their foe, but she flew out of range and made a circle in the skies. Vainqueur suddenly wondered how she could notice him while invisible, with a glance telling him the sand on his body revealed his position.

Above, the knight moved to dive back, shining under the sunlight.

That female manling was eager to make Vainqueur live up to his name. “Minion, stay there,” Vainqueur ordered his manling, putting him on the ground with the princess bag. “I will take flight and deal with this flying snack personally.”

“Your Majesty, she’s the strongest adventurer in Mistral, and the slayer of King Balaur! Don’t underestimate her!”

“Balaur?” For once, this made Vainqueur pause. “The fomor?”

A mere manling riding a flying cow took down Balaur, the second greatest calamity of this age? When?

“[Spell Purge]!” Vainqueur snarled, revealing himself in his full draconic glory as his Perk negated his ring’s invisibility. “Fear my wrath, manling knight! You face Emperor Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of his name, Great Calamity of this Age, Emperor of Murmurin and the Albain Mountains, and Slayer of Furibon!”

“I know about the lich,” the knight said, raising her blade. “I would say thanks since we never got around to killing him before, but—”

“You knew about Furibon?” Vainqueur glared at the knight, suddenly outraged. “And you did nothing? Do you know what he was doing in that dungeon? Do you know?”

The knight paused, halting her descent. “Excuse me?”

“I am sure he must have sacrificed hundreds of baby princesses to prepare that dread, foul, evil spell! He was about to release it on the world before I stopped him! Do you know what he made me suffer through? The bloody war I had to fight? The sacrifices I had to make? Do you know?”

“Uh, no, I—”

“You would, if you were cultured enough to read The War of the Hoard!” Vainqueur kept ranting. “My minion was abducted and tortured by Furibon! The lich stole his vegetable and forced him to eat baby coins!”

“Your Majesty, maybe you are exaggerating there...”

“My minion risked his life to seal that foul lich’s soul away!” Vainqueur ignored his chief of staff and kept shaming the knight, who had lowered her sword. “We had to fight a horde of three hundred demons until he could become strong enough to imprison that depraved monster!”

“I, I…” The knight struggled to find her words when faced with her obvious incompetence. “I’m… I’m sorry, I didn’t know…”

“I am sick and tired of you manlings’ speciesism!” Vainqueur vented off. “I am being the best dragon adventurer to your backward species, and you deny me my rightful payments when I solve your problems! You even send thieves after my hoard, even after I worked hard to save the one true way of life from Furibon!”

“Your Majesty always says all species are equally inferior to dragons,” Manling Victor reminded his master.

“Which is a fact, not a silly superstition!” Vainqueur replied, the knight now silent as her griffon looked up at her in confusion. “And your species’ attitude has done nothing to change my opinion! I saved everything good in the world from Furibon!”

“Also, attacking us after using a magical scan, just because I have monster classes and Vainqueur is a dragon?” Minion Victor shouted at the knight. “It’s called racial profiling!”

“It’s… it’s not!” the knight protested feebly. “Two secs. [Enhanced Karma Scan].”

“You are doing it again!” Victor accused her, as light words appearing in front of her helmet while she looked at both Vainqueur and his lackey.

“No, I’m not!” she protested, the words quickly vanishing. “Okay, I have checked your karma, with both of you being neutral, with the dragon very much oriented towards chaotic and Dalton tending towards good.”

“Dalton?” Vainqueur squinted at his minion.

“That’s my family name,” the manling said, Vainqueur realizing he never even considered his lackey may have one. “Also, neutral... isn't that a polite name for bland?”

“Enough talk!” Vainqueur extended his wings. “I will kill you, Knight Kia, and eat your flying cattle for your treacherous attack.”

“I, uh… I don’t think it will be necessary for us to fight, I jumped the gun,” the knight said, casting a spell. “Sorry, [Rain of Healing].”

A shower of golden powder fell on Vainqueur and his lackey, with the dragon attempting to grab the gold on instinct; the powder vanished on touch but made his back stop itching.

You have recovered all your HP!

“I deeply apologize,” the knight said, although she stayed at a respectable distance. “I mistook for villains, instead of the goodish mercenary type. I can’t believe I never imagined you would be that kind of heroes.”

“It happens all the time,” Manling Victor said with surprising warmth.

“Minion, you will reproduce with someone else,” Vainqueur lambasted him for his skewed priorities, the minion lowering his head in shame while the knight recoiled. “She attacked me, and she will pay me a tribute as apology. I demand no less than five griffins as reparation.”

“Your Majesty, I do not think that is a good idea. She must be almost as strong as you, and we have princesses to save.”

“Minion, a true dragon has no equal,” Vainqueur replied, unwilling to let it slide. Even if she had killed Balaur, he was only the second greatest calamity behind the dragon. Vainqueur had earned that title.

“Princesses to save?” The knight interrupted. “Princess Merveille? You intended to go to Mauria and rescue Princess Merveille?”

“Her and all the other princesses Maure captured,” Manling Victor spoke up.

“And you… and you will keep them for yourself?” asked the Shining Knight, her hold over her sword wavering.

“Of course not, do you take me for one of these horrible humanophiles?” Vainqueur shuddered in disgust. “I will release them back in the wild once I am done, and your Manling King has granted me the promised boon for their rescue.”

“About it, Your Majesty hasn’t told me how much they intended to ask for,” Manling Victor pointed out.

That was because Vainqueur had an idea for a special gift. If that manling king proved unable to deliver, then the dragon wouldn’t ask anything less than one million coins or a hundred thousand jewels, to add to his current hoard.

“Okay, we are on the same page.” The knight had her griffon land on the ground in front of Vainqueur. “I deeply apologize for my uncalled attack, but I’m not giving up my griffon. However, if you agree, I could make it up by helping you in your quest.”

Vainqueur squinted at the griffon, who glared back at him. “I am listening,” he said, in case that knight could be helpful in carrying his princesses to Murmurin.

“First, I have to ask, do you intend to fight Maure yourselves? Because I can’t support it.”

“Why? Because it would be dangerous?” Minion Victor asked.

“What? No, it would be amazing, and I insist on coming along.” The manling sounded positively giddy. “I’ve been trying to convince my party for months to kick that foppish demon bastard’s ass, and they always delay. Same with the lich. If we had known he worked a foul magic which threatened the world...”

“Your feeble mind cannot imagine the depth of Furibon’s depravity,” Vainqueur said grimly. “He was pure evil, the kind that existed for itself. He was unliving lead.”

“For a dragon to say that… I’m not going to ask for the gory details. Is that his soul in the scythe?” The knight looked up at the Manling Victor's weapon, "I see... you took that cursed Reaper class because it was the only way to defeat the lich. It must have been a difficult choice."

"You could say that..."

The green knight removed her helmet, and Vainqueur squinted, for it was the first time he saw a manling with skin so dark and hair that did not look ugly. Manling Victor stood in place speechless, while his master wasn’t impressed. She didn’t smell like a princess.

“I’m Kia. Kia Bekele. Sorry to have shot you out of the sky.” She put a hand through her hair. “You both have a terrible reputation.”

“Canihaveyourautograph?” Manling Victor spoke so fast that even Vainqueur’s imperial ears had trouble understanding him. The female manling laughed warmly, amused. “You’re the Shining Knight, the greatest paladin in the world! Are you really a Claimed?”

“I am. Came from Ethiopia, although I stayed some time in the United Kingdom.” The knight seemed to struggle to find her words, obviously as poor as Manling Victor at pre-breeding conversations. “And you, Victor, where do you come from? Can I call you Victor?”

“Sure! I’m Ame—”

“Manling,” Vainqueur let out smoke by his nostrils, annoyed at the knight ignoring him. “How will you make up for the crime of striking the Emperor of Murmurin and the Albain Mountains?”

The knight sheathed her blade and opened her empty palm, a blue, shining, egg-shaped stone materializing within it. “It’s an [Agarthan Warp Stone], a one-use item that can teleport you and anyone close back to any place you visited. It even bypasses protections against teleportation effects, such as the barriers protecting the city of Mauria.”

“My [Eye for Treasure] tells me this is the genuine article, Your Majesty,” said the minion.

“I always carry two of them, just in case,” the knight said. “You can use one to transport everyone back to a safer place, safe from Maure.”

Oh, and that way Vainqueur wouldn’t have to burn fat flying back home! Perfect. “As Emperor of Murmurin and the Albain Mountains, I accept this tribute, and forgive you for your sinful offense against my person. Any other dragon would have killed you for your insolence, but I am generous and magnanimous.”

The two manlings exchanged glances. “Dragons,” they both said at once before Victor frowned. “You met another?”

“I fought one with my old party. Blightswamp, I think that was her name.”

“That pauper living in the boonies?” Vainqueur sneered. “She doesn’t even have a cave in her swamp!”

“She had a tar pit before we dislodged her. I don’t know where she fled afterward.”

She ran from manlings? Manlings? And to think he invited her to his own Bragging Day, what was Vainqueur thinking?

It made his celebration all the more important. As far as Vainqueur knew, he was the only one protecting the honor of dragonkind against hordes of liches and peasants. He had to put pride back in the heart of his kin.

“Also, Nostredame’s intel woman told me you had lost the Apple of Knowledge to Brandon Maure,” the knight asked Minion Victor. “From what I understood, it’s an iPad?”

“From a Lockheed Martin engineer,” the minion said, the knight frowning. “With schematics to match.”

“Alright, it is indeed time to kick Maure’s ass. Do not underestimate him. He is eccentric, but nobody survived a duel with him, and he possesses one of the most optimized Fighter Class combinations in the world.”

Vainqueur shrugged with contempt. “He is an elf. Elves are cattle, they eat grass. I will devour him and then get the princesses.”

“Still, don’t underestimate him.” She turned to the flying rock. “Shall we go?”

A note from Void Herald

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About the author

Void Herald

Bio: I'm Maxime Julien Durand ([email protected]), a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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