It was a starry night, and Vainqueur would soon make his bragging speech.
His gluttonous guests had gathered in Murmurin’s town square for the main feast, after yesterday’s elf appetizers. Dragons rested and talked, either on the ground or on nests made of the minions’ houses, as Vainqueur’s lackeys supplied them with a near-limitless supply of sheep, cattle, and cooked fiends.
Without a hoard to show—the thought alone broke Vainqueur’s heart, although he was too dignified to cry—the Emperor of Murmurin had ordered half his minions to serve the meals to distract the dragons, and the other half to recover anything that could pass for treasure.
Thankfully, the moth’s army had left gifts behind after dying or retreating, including inside the wreckage of their metal bird. Shiny weapons, glittering armor, and the cattle money the moth’s minions had been paid with...
There was a startling lack of swords, though. Vainqueur had expected the mimic retriever to bring at least one of them.
His remaining minions, those who had survived the battle, had done their best, gathering a large pile of treasure right next to his statue. It was a good hoard, but nothing like the perfect, golden marvel he sacrificed to that greedy goddess. He could brag about it, but it wouldn’t cement his status as the greatest dragon of all.
Thankfully, he had kept the crystallized princesses on top. They somewhat made up for the rest, and Icefang was livid at his twin princess record being upstaged.
“That was all we could find, Your Majesty,” his flying Grand Vizier said, throwing his scythe and every magical item on top of the hoard as a token of fealty. The other minions had done the same, returning all their magical items to the great hoard, as the cycle of life demanded.
“Where are the items I lent to you?” Vainqueur asked, finding a few of them missing.
“I, uh.” Victor scratched the back of his head. “To be honest, I kinda lost them.”
Vainqueur immediately guessed what happened. “That fairy thief!” the dragon enraged. “Not only did she rob you of your life, but she also looted your corpse afterward!”
“No, no, I—”
“Only I am allowed to profit from my minions’ remains!” Vainqueur ranted. “By robbing you, she robbed me! I vow it on your head, Manling Victor, one day I shall cook that fairy and eat her for dinner!”
“Why are you vowing on my head?” Manling Victor complained. “I already lost it once.”
“Exactly, since you will never lose it ever again,” Vainqueur gave his favorite minion a knowing look. “This guarantees my prophecy shall come to pass.”
“This is your Bragging Day. I am not contesting your logic.”
“Yes, that is why it is called logic,” Vainqueur replied.
“Also, King Roland, Kia, and Gardemagne’s royal retinue have arrived to recover Princess Merveille,” Manling Victor explained. “They kinda panicked when they noticed the dragons feasting and the dead demons littering the road, but then they calmed down after Charlene told them you killed Maure. The king wasn’t even surprised, from what she told me.”
Clearly, that manling King was an intelligent fellow. “I shall deign to treat them as my guests, in time for my bragging speech,” Vainqueur said, magnanimous, as his kobold minions brought him a cart of cooked beef with creamy poison sauce.
A group of thirty manling knights on horses made their way to him, led by Manling Charlene. It reminded Vainqueur of that time he ate the duchess of Euskal, except these manlings seemed civilized enough not to attack.
“His Majesty, King Roland Gardemagne,” one of the knights exclaimed, a tall, meaty old bearded manling riding on a white horse at the forefront. This manling went shirtless, with a long ermine cloak whom Vainqueur had to admit would look good on his hoard; he wore a diamond crown on his head and a two-handed golden axe on his back. Knight Kia rode her griffon on his right, and some kind of black elf flew by his own magic on his left.
Knight Kia glanced the piled up weapons, the destroyed houses, and the smoking remains of the Iron Eagle with a dejected look. “I missed the big battle,” she said, sounding incredibly disappointed. “I missed the big battle.”
“Yeah, it really would have helped if you had shown up,” said Manling Victor, as he landed clumsily on the ground. Since his pet’s destruction, he had been forced to learn to fly to get around and hadn’t quite mastered this great dragon skill.
“Vic?” Kia recognized his chief of staff. “What the hell happened to you? Is that a tail coming out of your pants?”
“Puberty,” Manling Victor replied, the dark elf letting out a laugh and Knight Kia having a chuckle. “Also, it’s ‘what the Happyland’ now.”
“It has lost its zing,” the dark elf replied.
“My Grand Vizier has been Vainqueurized,” Vainqueur said, sighing as gazes turned to him. Did he have to teach them everything? “It is a verb which means to become awesome. I Vainqueurized that village, we Vainqueurized the world, it was Vainqueurizing, this meal was Vainqueurlicious... it goes with everything, as my name should.”
“Is Vainqueurspeech going to be our national language?” Manling Victor asked with his usual strange tone. By now, his master had grown used to it.
“I am considering it, but the road toward civilizing your kind is long and paved with ordeals,” Vainqueur replied.
The manling King, who had been carefully observing the scene, finally spoke up. “Emperor Vainqueur,” he said, the way he sized Vainqueur up reminding the dragon of a lion sizing up a rival. “I have been hearing about you for a while, and you do not disappoint. You are exactly as I imagined you.”
“Yes, the most powerful of emperors stand before you,” Vainqueur asserted his title, in case the Class System once again bothered him. “The Emperor of Murmurin, and the Albain Mountains.”
“And Ishfania, from what I understand,” Manling King Roland replied. “You have done a great service to Gardemagne in felling the Demon King before he could bomb our cities. This act of friendship shall not go unrewarded.”
“Fifteen million,” Vainqueur replied, the manlings frowning in confusion. “The bounty you put on my head does not represent my net worth, which I find insulting. Thus I ask that you increase it to reflect it.”
“That isn’t the number Your Majesty gave me yesterday,” his Grand Vizier pointed out.
“Shush, Manling Victor,” Vainqueur hushed his chief of staff.
“Were you not informed?” Manling Roland asked. “I froze your bounty a month ago. I asked that no adventurer of Gardemagne go after your head.”
“Aw, but that was free experience and treasures!” Vainqueur complained.
“Your Majesty, we left the previous hideout because they kept bothering us,” Manling Victor reminded him. “Also, I’m pretty sure we’ve made many enemies who will love to go after our heads.”
Manling King Roland cleared out his throat. “Bounties are for enemies, and I would like to come as a friend.”
“Only Manling Victor earned that title,” Vainqueur chastised the upstart, the statement taking back the various manlings.
“Then, as a good neighbor,” King Roland replied. “I have no quarrel with you, so long as you return my niece to me.”
“I, Vainqueur, unlike you robbers, do not tax or infringe on my minions’ private property,” Vainqueur replied smugly. “I shall release your princess back into the wild after tonight. But you better grant me my promised boon.”
“Of course,” King Roland replied, proving himself a civilized fellow, unlike that tasteless duchess. “What do you want? Lands, honors, knighthood—”
Vainqueur’s roar made some of the guests raise their eyes from their meals to look at him. “No taxes?” King Roland frowned.
“I will not pay a dime of the treasure I burned fat to earn!” Vainqueur declared. “I want all my quests to be robbery-exempted! No guild fee, no tax, no nothing! Ever!”
“Deal,” the king immediately agreed, as if expecting the dragon to change his mind if he didn’t seize the opportunity. “V&V will be forever exempt from all fees usually applied to adventurer companies.”
“But, but…” Manling Charlene made a face. “How will I sustain the local chapter?”
“The Kingdom will fund it,” King Roland replied dismissively. “It is paramount that we keep good relationships with the new Ishfanian government.”
“The new government?” Manling Victor picked up.
“With its army destroyed and Maure dead, Ishfania is gone as a nation. While a demon-infested desert, it possesses resources. Enough of them that nations like the Eversun Empire, Barin, or even Prydain may try to claim it. I would rather avoid a new Century War and fill the vacuum as soon as possible.”
“But I squashed that moth!” Vainqueur protested. “I saved the great hoard from him!”
“Exactly and thus I propose a treaty,” the King said. “Gardemagne will recognize your claim as Emperor of Ishfania, making it an official adventurer state; you will still enjoy all the benefits of the Adventurer Guild and rule your territory as you wish. In exchange, I ask for a solemn vow that our countries never to take arms against the other and fight united against outside threats. A mutual protection pact.”
“Oh, and I will never lose access to my Emperor class!” Vainqueur realized. “Brilliant! I accept this tribute!”
The manling king nodded with dignity, then turning to his archmage. “Nostredame, a map of the continent, and a pen.”
The dark elf conjured the tools with a snap of his fingers, the manling king tracing a line across it. “This is the Albain Mountains. They shall serve as the frontier between your dominion, and Gardemagne.”
“But the mountains are mine,” Vainqueur insisted. “Emperor of Murmurin, Ishfania, and the Albain Mountains.”
The king looked up at the dragon, then at the ruins of the Iron Eagle, then back at Vainqueur. “So long as we keep ownership of the powerstone mines we opened already.”
“I, Vainqueur, am too wealthy to lower myself to claiming your hoards for myself,” the dragon tried to sound generous.
“Then I assent to your request,” the King replied, circling a large swath of land on the map. “All of this is yours.”
“Vainqueur Knightsbane,” the dragon began to voice his new title out loud and rejoiced. “First of His Name, Great Calamity of the Age, Defender of the Hoard, and Emperor of Murmurin, Ishfania, and the Albain Mountains.”
“Your Majesty,” Knight Kia began.
“Yes?” both Vainqueur and King Roland said at once, the dragon being disappointed when the knight turned to her fellow Manling.
“I immediately ask to be transferred as the ambassador to the Empire of Murmurin.”
“What?” For the first time, the Manling King seemed shocked. “Lady Kia, what is the meaning of this?”
“Kia, what the hell?” the dark elf echoed the king’s sentiment, as the various knights present exchanged whispers.
“There are still remnants of Maure’s army out there,” Kia replied. “And Melodieuse escaped justice.”
“I missed the big battle!” Knight Kia cut her ally off. “No more!”
The King examined her, before nodding. “Very well,” he replied. “You are the hero of the Golden Fields. If you believe you can defend Gardemagne from abroad, I shall not stop you.”
“Thank you my liege,” the knight nodded, before turning to Vainqueur. “That is if the Emperor accepts me.”
“I must consult my chief of staff.” Vainqueur narrowed his head towards his favorite lackey, speaking to him very, very lowly, “Manling Victor?”
“Yes?” his manling whispered.
“Have you bred yet?”
His manling’s face told him that, no, he hadn’t. The dragon realized his hopeless lackey would never reproduce without help, and so took the matter into his own claws.
“I agree, Knight Kia,” Vainqueur said out loud. “Since my Empire’s capital village is under renovations, you shall be granted a room in Manling Victor’s quarters. Our chiefs of staff will thus practice close minion diplomacy, Manling Roland.”
“Yes!” Knight Kia pumped her fist. “Thanks, I won’t let you down.”
“I assume we are done,” King Roland said, turning to his elf wizard. “Can you free my niece from that prison?”
“The caster’s level surpasses mine, but with my artifacts and my optimized Perks, this will be trivial, Your Majesty.”
“You shall release my princesses after the celebration,” Vainqueur said, before extending a hand towards the buffet. “Now, eat! My minions shall see that you have your share of sheep!”
“With pleasure, Emperor Vainqueur,” Manling King Roland said, as he and his retinue unhorsed, kobolds leading them to their future meals.
If Vainqueur had waited for that cattle wizard to dispel Manling Victor’s [Necrophobia] status, then Corpseling Jules or tasty Malfy could have revived him for a cheaper price.
By arriving late, that uneducated King cost him money!
For the sake of his audience, Vainqueur managed to keep a straight face but raged inwardly.
“Did you just set me up with Kia?” Manling Victor asked Vainqueur once the guests out of earshot, unaware of the great injury done to his master.
“Minion husbandry is a long-honored dragon tradition,” Vainqueur replied, hoping Manling Victor’s offspring would inherit his wings and tail. “If only he had come early, I might have called your robber king halfway civilized.”
“He kinda short-changed us,” Manling Victor said, ever the pessimist. “He dumped the responsibility of cleaning up a demon-infested country on you, secured a dragon ally, and kept all the benefits of the Albain Mountains without having to spare troops to defend them from Maure anymore. Also, I’m sure Charlene will keep an eye on us on his behalf, if she wasn’t before.”
“But no more taxes,” Vainqueur pointed out the truly important matter.
“But no more taxes,” Manling Victor replied with a sigh.
Anyway, it was time.
Vainqueur glanced at his guests and minions, and upon seeing all of them present, let out a mighty roar. All eyes turned to him, and the great dragon cleared his throat. Manling Victor, ever faithful, supported his master with a nod.
“Brothers and sisters, manlings and minions,” Vainqueur began. “It with great pride that I gathered you, so that you may marvel at the tasty bounties of my domain, my immeasurable wealth, and my three, yes, three princesses.”
“The princesses aren’t dancing,” Icefang immediately replied. “Six out of ten!”
“I say eight,” Genialissime countered. “Because Vainqueur has two spares, which is bragworthy.”
“Three princesses in one place magnify their princessness,” the black wyrm, Blightswamp, agreed with a scientific tone. “Also, the fact Vainqueur caught three from different species proves my theory that princessness is a contagious condition.”
“But they aren’t triplets!” Icefang nitpicked. “And the food is the only thing to brag about! Look at his paltry hoard!”
Vainqueur ignored his rival, although he noticed the dragons weren’t very impressed by his treasure.
Here goes nothing.
“Certainly, you must have heard rumors that I gathered a greater, golden hoard,” Vainqueur continued, waving a hand at Manling Victor. “And that I sacrificed it all to revive my greatest treasure, my prized, dragonized chief of staff.”
The dragons whispered between them, as Victor knelt in gratefulness. “Vainqueur best dragon!” the minions cheered. “Vainqueur best dragon!”
Although pleased, Vainqueur silenced them with a look. He waited for his audience to calm down, then spoke up again.
“The rumors are true.”
When in doubt, be awesome.
“Yes, you heard that right! I, Vainqueur, have grown a hoard so big, that I can afford to spend it!”
His radical declaration drew gasps from the audience, as he proceeded to turn this disaster into a triumph.
“That’s how rich I am!” Vainqueur kept boasting. “I am so wealthy, that I could spend twelve million gold coins on reviving one minion!”
“Heresy!” Icefang screamed, the other guests speechless at his brazen words. “A dragon does not spend his hoard!”
“That is a poor dragon’s response!” Vainqueur retorted, his rival fuming at the insult. “A truly wealthy dragon should be so rich, that twelve million coins are no more precious than one!”
“Then where is the rest?” One of the dragon guests asked.
“Look around you!” Vainqueur extended a hand towards his marvelous lands. “This is my hoard! I, Vainqueur, have founded an empire on the enlightened dragon principles! A country where no minions ever leave my service, even in death, where demons can trade souls without paying taxes to manlings! An empire where greed is law!”
“You use mass undead labor?” Knight Kia blinked, before noticing Malfy and turning red. “You trade souls with demons?!”
“It’s… not as bad as you think…” Manling Victor winced, while Knight Kia’s jaw clenched.
Vainqueur ignored them, showcasing the audience the iron plate around his neck. “I have become an adventurer! The weak and fragile manlings, afraid of trolls and fairies, have paid me tributes of gold, and given me their hoards to defend!”
“Vainqueur, you have become a banker?” Genialissime was aghast. “But that is minion work!”
“I am no banker,” Vainqueur replied. “I am the Defender of the Hoard! Of all hoards! I slew the dread Furibon during the First War of the Hoard, and then the Moth King during the Second! I uncovered the ancient dragon system, gaining the power to protect the dragon way of life from those who would turn it to lead!”
“Ridiculous!” Icefang rolled his eyes. “A ‘system’ which grants you power and money? If it is easy enough for you to access it, why haven’t I? Because it doesn’t exist, and I will prove it right now!”
“No, no!” Manling Nostredame began to panic, Vainqueur worrying if new moths had come to ruin his moment again. “The only requirement to take the first level is awareness of the system, and meeting the stat criteria for beginner classes! The only reason they haven’t—”
“Vainqueur, if this ‘system’ exists, then may it appear before me this instant!”
Icefang stopped ranting, seemingly glancing at an invisible text in front of him.
Everyone fell silent at his reaction, Vainqueur smugly smirking in triumph.
“I… I have seen a message…” The frost dragon squinted. “‘Congratulations! Through your bitter resentment and dragon ego, you gained a level in ‘Noble.’ Noble? I am a king!”
“Oh? So if I say that I can become a wizard, I will be?” Genialissime blinked, apparently receiving a message of his own. He pointed a claw at a house, unleashing a bolt at it, much to everyone’s amazement.
“It worked.” Genialissime rejoiced. “It worked!”
“Me too!” a red dragon spoke up, unleashing a feeble spell with a word. “I am a wizard!”
“Oh, this is fun!” another guest said, the skin of the non-dragon guests turning white for a reason Vainqueur couldn’t grasp. “I need to improve my cooking, so I want to be a cook!”
“Can it make me a better minion manager?” Jolie asked. “Mine keep escaping!”
“Sage,” Blightswamp told one of her dragonlings. “You can become a princess! A dragon princess!”
“Princess!” her daughter replied.
Almost immediately, Vainqueur’s guests took to the game and began to declare themselves sorcerers, knights, and nobles. Only that idiot Blightswamp failed to replicate true princessness, which was beyond even the system’s power.
“This… this is all true!” Icefang’s eyes widened, as he turned to Manling Roland. “Manling King!”
“Yes?” The King of Gardemagne had watched the display with far more stoicism than the rest of his fearful kind.
“Hand me a plate!” Icefang ordered with a haughty tone. “It is a great honor for you, that a dragon of my caliber deigns to answer your species’ requests, but I will gladly do it for your gold and silver!”
“Silver!” Vainqueur chuckled.
“Silver is shiny enough for a hoard!” Icefang replied angrily, before brazenly stealing his rival’s catchphrase. “I am a dragon, and I am now, an adventurer!”
“Me too!” Jolie added, “I want to go on an adventure and find a minion that I can love as much as Uncle!”
“I wonder if the manlings can pay me for the privilege of me not attacking them,” a dragon said. “That way, I get richer without effort. Passive revenues!”
“Oh, great idea, but I like getting rewarded for eating food better!”
The manling King said nothing while his minions paled and panicked. Instead, he simply turned to Manling Charlene. “You there.”
“Y-yes, Your Majesty?”
“You deal with this,” the king ordered. “Do as the dragons say. If they want to create their own adventurer companies under the auspices of Gardemagne, the guild shall oblige. We have enough would-be Maures and unclaimed rewards in the world; dragons willing to take care of them are welcome, so long as they do not eat quest givers.”
At Manling Charlene’s stony face, Friend Victor exploded into laughter, held his chest, and then rolled on the ground.
“Indeed, Manling Victor!” Vainqueur rejoiced as much as his chief of staff, as the feast was drowned in buzzing, animate discussions. ”Like Grandrake invented princess hunting, I, Vainqueur, inspired a new era of dragon adventuring!"
He would brag about his visionary thinking until the end of times!
“We are doomed,” Manling Victor replied, crying in the middle of his laugh. “So doomed, it becomes art!”