“Bye Vainqueur!” one of his last dragon guests said, flying away under the midday sun. “Amazing Bragging Day!”
“Of course, it was mine!” Vainqueur replied, which left his close family as the only remaining dragons. “Aww, you’re leaving?”
“I do not want to leave my hoard unattended for long,” Genialissime replied, his mate Blightswamp at his side. “You know how many greedy ratlings live near my place. You avoid eating them for a year, and then they forget the food chain.”
“Uncle Vainqueur, Uncle Vainqueur!” Jolie could scarcely stay in place. “Can I make my lair nearby? I want to become a great adventurer just like you!”
“Jolie, there is a big flying city full of tasty elves and demons which now belongs to me,” Vainqueur replied, happy to have company. “I will gladly let you settle there!”
“Great!” Jolie squealed in happiness. “I will bring my hoard there!”
“It was the best Bragging Day of the century,” Genialissime congratulated Vainqueur. “I cannot wait to test my new magical powers on my cattle!”
“Just wait for my new one next century!” Vainqueur said although he wouldn’t stop boasting about his great discoveries anytime soon.
“This system’s discovery means so much for my princess studies!” Blightswamp said, carrying Genialissime’s offspring on her back. “If nobles can evolve into emperors, then this may be the process that allows noble ladies to become princesses! If I can figure out how it works…”
“Honey, I think some of nature’s mysteries are best left unanswered,” Genialissime replied, apparently in a philosophical mood.
The loss of his three princesses had left Vainqueur in a sad mood in contrast. After the elf wizard released them from their crystals, they had screamed at the sight of two hundred dragons. It had taken twenty minutes for Manling King Roland to calm them down. Vainqueur had offered the manlings to take one of his princess bags to carry them home, but they instead used horses to carry them away. The dragon blamed it on a culture clash.
Vainqueur suddenly wondered if his [Dynasty] perk could allow him to create and raise a princess collection.
No, that would be too easy.
He would just go to the elves for groceries.
Vainqueur waved a hand at his family, as they flew towards the skies, officially ending his party on a satisfying note.
Congratulations! For being recognized as Emperor by a powerful head of state, achieving full dominion over Ishfania's monsters, and inspiring newfound respect as a Monster Lord, you earned a level in [Emperor] and two levels in [Kaiser]!
You gained the [Imperial Authority] and [Malefic Secrecy] Class Perk!
+60 HP, +10 SP, +3 STR, +3 VIT, +2 SKI, +2 AGI, +2 INT, +3 CHA, +2 LCK!
[Imperial Authority]: reduce enemy’s evasion by twenty percent.
[Malefic Secrecy]: divination spells and Perk trying to ascertain information about you automatically fail, unless they succeed on an opposed Charisma check.
Of course, like after every Bragging Day, the entire area looked like the aftermath of a volcanic disaster. There wasn’t a house unturned, or a sheep left alive. “Minions!” Vainqueur ordered, the Kobold Rangers, gnolls, mimics and other servants rushing to his side. “The party is over!”
“Your Majesty,” Kobold Red bowed, imitated by the others. “How can we serve?”
“Where is Manling Victor?” Vainqueur asked, ready to summon his trusty sidekick to his side.
“I think I saw the chief with a girl,” Bony Blue replied. “But all humanoids look the same, so I cannot tell which one.”
Vainqueur resisted the urge to summon his minion, at least until he had bestowed his eggs upon a worthy stock. This would be his only day off this year. “Then you, Kobold Rangers, shall be in charge of leading the minions for the following missions.”
“The Kobold Rangers live to serve, Your Dragon Majesty!” The rangers adopted a pose, Junior the Mimic letting out a happy bark behind them.
Vainqueur immediately began to distribute orders. “Ranger Red, fetch me Manling Charlene and ask her for quests! The holiday is over, now it is time for work! My vaults must overflow with gold again! Ranger Pink, you shall write a new chronicle of the ‘War of the Hoard’, narrating the defeat of the Moth King Maure. It shall be called ‘The Return of the Dragon,’ and it shall be distributed to every home, so everyone can learn of my great deeds.”
“No work of mine will ever do justice to Your Majesty’s deeds, but I will do my best!”
“Ranger Black, fetch me Corpseling Jules and have him raise every minion fallen in the line of duty. If death will not end Manling Victor’s service, then I shall not deny this pleasure to my other lackeys. The rest of you…”
Vainqueur pointed a claw at the ravaged village. “Clean this up!”
“Yes, Your Majesty!” they sang together, before immediately scampering to work.
Vainqueur observed his minions do their merry work, dragging away corpses and repairing the houses. His eyes turned to his volcano, then to the desert which now belonged to him. How much treasure slumbered beneath the sands? How many coins cried alone, hoping for him to carry them away to his vault? His adventures made him realize he had always thought small, before meeting Manling Victor. Now, he had to see big.
Soon, the entire country would be his golden hoard. Everyone would know his name, and the false news of his death would be at long last forgotten!
Come to think of it, Vainqueur had never punished the thieves who dared lie about killing him. With his Bragging Day done, he could finally focus on finding them.
Then he would eat them, and take their cattle.
“Ugh…” Victor woke up, his eyelids were heavy. His sworn enemy, natural light, assaulted him relentlessly. “My head…”
He had tried his best to drink himself into oblivion after last night’s disaster. Due to his Red Dragon Lifeforce, he had needed a lot of alcohol for it to stick, but he had managed to overcome it.
Victor managed to open his eyes, his mind foggy. His back and neck hurt like hell, and his eyes struggled to become accustomed to the lighting.
What happened? He remembered the dragons’ mass discovery of the system, Kia getting angry at him for the whole ‘Soul Nethermart’ thing, teaching Beer Pong to Sav and Jules, asking Allison how he could convert to Cybele, the gnoll bum fight, comforting Charlene after Croissant drunkenly admitted that he fed her cakes to fatten her for dinner...
Victor’s eyes snapped open.
His eyes acclimated to the light, and Victor realized he was in an unknown, dirty bedroom, sharing a bed with someone else. The owner didn’t keep the room clean, and he could see fleas hopping on the ground.
Werewolves had fleas.
The seed of doubt worming itself in his heart, Victor slowly raised the blanket to peek at who slept underneath.
Please gods, anyone but Chocolatine. Kia, Allison, Isabelle Maure, even Pink Ranger; anyone but her.
Thankfully, it wasn't Chocolatine.
“My head…” Apparently, Charlene had drunk as much as he did. “Urgh…”
Victor sighed in relief, before realizing that he comforted her in more ways than one.
He glanced at the bedside, finding a fully clothed Croissant snoring on the ground with a bottle in one hand, and Victor's scythe in the other. "He used me to scratch his back," Furibon complained, sounding broken. "To scratch his back..."
Victor blinked at the sight; his eyes moved to Charlene, then back to Croissant, and finally back to Charlene, who returned his gaze.
"That's awkward," Victor said.
Charlene glanced at Croissant with an angry sneer. "He tried to fatten me for dinner," she said, "Serves him right."
He had forgotten how petty she could be when revengeful. "So, um..."
"I still don't like you." Charlene thought over it. "You're good, but I still don't like you."
Figure. "Then why?"
"You screwed me over with the dragons."
"No, but yes?"
"So I screwed you."
His life was weird.
Someone knocked on the door, with Charlene immediately hiding beneath the blanket and faking sleep; the chief of staff putting on some pants just as an impatient Allison entered the room. “Ah, Vic, you are done,” Allison said, upon glimpsing at the sleeping form in the bed. “First, let me say that I am so very happy you took my lessons about the worship of Cybele to heart.”
“Yeah, I figured out I should worry about my afterlife as soon as possible.”
“Second, I..." She paused upon noticing Croissant sleeping on the ground, and fell silent.
"Not even remotely what it looks like," Victor insisted.
Allison said nothing, and then showed him a casket. "I brought you ice and healing potions for the breeding line outside. I hope we have enough.”
“The breeding line?” Had he heard right? His head was heavy.
“Yes, the line outside the house.”
What the Happyland did he do last night? Still in the throes of the hangover, Victor looked through the bedroom’s window. A line of people, mostly women of all ages, waited in front of the house.
More than a hundred! “How did this happen?”
“Yes, you kinda made it loud that you wanted to breed last night, the village is depopulated, and you are the second most powerful person in the ‘empire,’” Allison rolled her eyes at the word. “You do the math.”
No way. It was too good to be true, so it wasn't. There had to be a trap.
He examined the line in detail, and it confirmed his fear.
Most were werewolves in human form, but half of them weren't human-looking at all. Furry gnolls, kobolds, mimics, festering ghouls... “How many?” Victor asked, worried.
“Since you told them you met their god, who made you his prophet and ordered the banishment of household pets, the entire cult of the Moon Man wants a piece of your genes. Add some gnolls and kobolds, the fact that the mimics seem obsessed with seeing your ‘sword treasure’...”
At that moment, Victor realized that there could be ‘too much of a good thing.’
A terrible idea crossed his mind. “Who is the first in line?” he asked.
Allison’s smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Oh please gods, no...
“Viiiiiiiiic…” her voice came from behind the door.
Victor immediately attempted to jump through the window and escape.
Much like Vainqueur in Haudemer, his new dragon wings prevented him from passing through.
“This world sucks!” he complained, desperately struggling to squeeze through.
"In your case," Allison said, before pushing on his back to help him escape, "Maybe in more ways than one."
“You foolish fiend!” Kia pointed her sword at that cursed building. “Why should I not bring down this place?”
“This is a free trade area, and Happyland has invested with the full support of the Emperor,” the bug fiend Malfaisant replied, he and other demons protecting the Nethermart. “Our presence here is perfectly legal!”
“It is unethical!” the knight complained, disgusted. “I am not cleaning Ishfania of Maure’s fiends just to let others take it over!”
“Miss Kia, this is the perfectly normal result of a free-market economy,” the fiend replied with a hint of smugness. “Nature abhors a vacuum. We are only answering the market’s needs.”
“So will we.” A pillar of light fell from the heavens, a golden-haired angel materializing next to Kia herself.
“Miel?” Kia recognized that angel, from the time she ended up in Heaven back when she had just started her adventurer career. “Hi Miel, have you finished your internship?”
“Good morning, Miss Kia. Indeed, I am now a full-fledged heaven counselor. I must inform you that you should upgrade your subscription to Heaven+. For your sake.”
Angels. Meaning well, but pushy.
“Look at that,” the bug fiend’s tone turned venomous. “A redemption chaser. Let me guess, your subscriptions are down again, and you have come to learn from the better multiplanar company?”
“Those are donations, and they are up!” Miel replied, the mere sight of the fiend angering her. “In fact, I have come to prospect new cli—new believers!”
“Prospect?! This is our market! We took it from Maure Hellcorporated, now it’s our turn to establish a monopoly!”
“Since it is a ‘free market economy’, as you slimy sales demon said, the higher-ups want to invest there,” Miel replied, showing the fiend a contract. “I have received the authorization of the Grand Vizier himself!”
“You... You will not steal our market share!” Malfaisant protested, much to Kia’s joy.
“The goddess, Shesha, also voiced her intention to invest in the new Ishfania, as did the Church of the Dread Three,” the angel replied. “If you fear our competition, then wait until they arrive.”
Malfaisant turned to his fiend bodyguards. “Inform the shareholders,” he ordered. “And cut our prices the way the Emperor cuts his foes!”
“Is this what I think it is?” Kia asked, seeing the big picture rearing its ugly head.
“A land ruled by, and for, greedy monsters, with no taxes, no regulations, and total freedom of religion.” Miel nodded. “Ishfania will become a haven for chaotic mortals and non-humans in a very short time. Now that Mr. Dalton has opened the market after breaking Maure’s monopoly, we in Heaven can finally bring light to all.”
Having seen Heaven and its practices, Kia rolled her eyes when Miel didn’t look. They were better than the alternative, but…
“Since I cannot harm that fiend the paladin way without voiding my diplomatic immunity, I’m going to Mauria,” the knight decided. “Maure still has followers who need to be kicked out downstairs.”
“You have the ear of the Emperor and his Grand Vizier, so we hope that you will convince them to take the right path.” Miel gave Kia a wink similar to those in advertising. “Everyone needs a shoulder angel.”
Urgh, politics again.
Not that Kia complained since she had a feeling things would turn out to be very interesting...
“All of the dragons present developed a class of their own.”
The temperature dropped heavily at her words. The red-eyed, carnivorous trees of the Dark Forest observed her with hunger, ready to tear her limb from limb at their master’s command.
Lucie Lavere, leader of the Nightblades and vampire criminal mastermind, kept her cool and continued her report.
“I destroyed the bindings of the Hellgate as you asked, but the dragons tore through Maure’s army, leaving it in shambles. Vainqueur has claimed Ishfania as his own, with Gardemagne’s support. Most of his guests followed his example, and decided to become adventurers.”
“Why did you not assassinate the dragon’s main minions before the attack?” her mistress pointed out, her voice betraying a hint of anger. The situation had gotten far out of hand.
“You didn’t ask,” Lucie replied. “You ordered me to destroy the seals. No more no less. Besides, it did not stick.”
In the end, Lucie was a mercenary, and she had some laundered gold stashed at Vainqueur’s castle. You do not mess with your bank.
Lucie’s mistress, the fomor Mell Odieuse—who went by the name Melodieuse when falsely claiming humanity—rested on her throne of black, cursed wood, her face one of stone. Her eyes stared through Lucie, while her fingers tightened on the Apple of Knowledge. Not at, but through, as if she was a ghost.
Eyes were the windows of the soul. But Mell Odieuse had none. Her eyes promised neither pity nor praise; they promised only annihilation. Lucie believed that if pure, distilled evil existed in the world, then it must have looked exactly like that woman.
Lucie worked for the dark woman so she could walk under the sun and learn her ancient magic, but had no reason to be overzealous. She knew that the fomors hated all other life, and the criminal wasn’t stupid enough to think she would somehow be spared once her usefulness had ended.
The fairy joined her fingers, thoughtful. “This has gone too far,” she said. “I wanted to avoid involving the dragons, but it can no longer be helped.”
Lucie said nothing, waiting for her mistress to elaborate. As usual, she didn’t, keeping her cards close to her chest.
“You are dismissed,” Mell Odieuse declared. “Keep an eye on Vainqueur and Gardemagne, until I have further need of your… other services.”
That was how Mell Odieuse worked, fostering chaos in the shadows without involving herself directly. She had empowered Maure with knowledge, hoping he and Gardemagne would slaughter one another, leaving only the fomor victorious. In a way, she had solved the Ishfania problem, by making a bigger one.
“My teacher,” Lucie nodded and began to recite a teleport spell. Before vanishing, she caught a glimpse of Mell Odieuse glancing at the immense, stone gate behind her throne, the greatest, most secret treasure of the fomors.
The gate to that strange world called Earth…