- 1198 After Mithras, One hundred years before Manling Victor’s ill-attempted robbery; the day Vainqueur Knightsbane became known as the Red Terror of Midgard.
Colognenburg, biggest western city of the Midgard Republic.
Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of His Name and Great Calamity of the Age, woke up with a terrible headache amidst ruins, fire, and devastation.
The great dragon didn’t feel so well, his eyelids so heavy he could barely open them. Moving was a struggle, and he forced himself to stand up on his legs. His eyes slowly acclimated to the smoke, until he could see his surroundings.
Vainqueur was in the middle of a vast crater, amidst what appeared to be the ruins of a large manling city. Flames, most probably his, had ravaged its districts and reduced most of them to cinders. A large castle was still ablaze in the middle of the destruction, its towers turned into candles. The dragon was alone with the sound of wood burning, the area empty of life.
Where was he? He didn’t recognize this place. Had he destroyed it? Why?
Ugh, and he felt sick in the stomach…
Vainqueur spat out something caught in his throat and examined it.
It looked like half-digested knight’s armor, with a broken sword of some kind.
Huh? He didn’t remember eating a knight since last year.
Come to think of it, what had he done last night? A fog obscured his memories, and his head hurt just trying to remember. What had he eaten to suffer like this?
Finding no food among the ruins to enlighten him, Vainqueur widened his wings and took flight, struggling to raise himself up. He was slowly getting better, especially after breathing some fresh air, but he had rarely felt so terrible.
As he flew over the city’s ramparts, Vainqueur realized he hadn’t destroyed one city. He had set the entire countryside ablaze in a straight line for miles. Over time, he recognized the area as a coastal region far, far west of his lair, which he only rarely visited.
The sheer scale of the chaos he left behind surprised the dragon. He usually only rampaged like this when he caught a thief stealing from his—
Suddenly reinvigorated, Vainqueur flew straight towards his lair, the furious movement of his wings causing trees to fall beneath him as he went. Within one hour, he reached his home, hoping his precious were safe.
The dragon had made his lair in a cave under a grass hill, in the middle of a valley the manlings had given him when he ordered them to. His goblin minions had built a small village of their own around the area, with wood and mud. They bred almost as fast as Vainqueur ate them when he ran out of cattle, feeding off the vegetables the dragon disdained.
Vainqueur landed in front of his cave, finding three greenish, childlike goblins sleeping on the job. The mere sight of these slackers infuriated him, and he landed right in front of them, the aftershock sending them flying against the cave’s walls. “Minions!” he roared, making the area tremble. “My hoard!”
“Y-Your Majesty?” One of the goblins urinated on himself at the sight. “What is the matter?”
“Where is my hoard?! Is it safe?” Vainqueur moved his head inside his cave, afraid for his gold’s safety.
Thankfully, he found his hoard inside, as perfect and shining as ever. The sight relieved him.
“Your M-Majesty?” one of the goblins struggled to find his words, as Vainqueur removed his head from the cave and looked down on him. “W-What is it?”
“Minion, has a thief tried to steal from me recently?”
That was it! “Minion, I do not remember what I did last night,” Vainqueur said. “Tell me what happened.”
“What I last remember?”
“Yes, before the last thing you remember is my stomach.”
“N-No need to go that far, Your Majesty… What I remember…”
- The day before, Red Dragon Hill...
Vainqueur Knightsbane woke up to the tune of goblins whispering in the dark, and of coins falling down from his hoard.
“I say we should run away… he ate half of us last month when he ran out of cows…”
“But if we run, he will track and eat all of us.”
“Then we wait for the long winter, yes, when he hibernates, and then—”
“Minions, what are you blabbering about?” Vainqueur said, moaning as he woke up, his eyes acclimated to the darkness. His goblin minions were discussing at the entrance of his cave. From the light, it was morning, and he was hungry.
“N-nothing, Your Majesty!” the goblin replied, the others cowering behind him. Each of them looked the same, tiny, greenish humanoids who could barely serve as snacks. “We caught a thief for you, that is all!”
They did? Such good, loyal guards he had. “Is he fat?”
“No, he’s a ratling, thin and nimble.”
Pity. Vainqueur would have loved a fat and meaty breakfast, like a dwarf. The dragon roused himself, walking towards his minions and causing the cave to tremble with every step. “Where is my chief of staff?”
“I, I am Your Majesty,” one of the goblins said.
He was? Vainqueur squinted at the minion, who looked like every other goblin under the sun. The dragon needed a way to identify him from among the others, like a red cloak or iron teeth. “Minion.”
“Yes, Your Majesty?”
“First, become more remarkable. I might get confused about your place in the food chain otherwise.” The chief of staff had already recruited a lot of goblins when Vainqueur informed him of the concept. “Next, bring me that thief, and my grocery bag. I am hungry.”
“The grocery bag?”
“The big bag,” Vainqueur elaborated, annoyed by the minion’s incompetence. “You have not forgotten to sew it back, have you? Because I am hungry, and if I cannot do my groceries, I will eat at home.”
Understanding the message, the goblins bolted out of the cave, with Vainqueur simply moving his head outside. The goblins soon climbed the hill towards his cave, keeping the thief restrained with ropes, and carrying a big, dragon-sized cowskin bag. The thief was a ratling, a strange hybrid between a rat and manling, with the ugliness of both and the tastiness of neither.
The animal did show Vainqueur the respect the dragon expected upon seeing him, groveling in front of him. “Great Vainqueur Knightbane! How majestuous you are!”
“It is Knightsbane, not Knightbane!” Vainqueur roared, the goblins kneeling in obedience at his reaction. “I can tell the difference!”
“F-Forgive my mistake, my king.” The ratling lowered his spine so much, Vainqueur half expected him to eat grass like a sheep. “I, I am but a humble traveler…”
“Is that what your kind call thieves now?” Vainqueur accused him.
“I did not come to steal from you, oh great Vainqueur Knightsbane… I came to gaze upon the size of your hoard, and of your magnificence… to see if you were—”
“As big as the tales said,” Vainqueur finished, the thief blinked. “I heard that one before. Three times. Find a new one.”
The ratling gulped. “The tales of Your Majesty do you little justice, Your Majesty… your claws are sharp as spears, your breath a hurricane…”
The dragon’s eyelids narrowed in disappointment.
“Five times I have heard this,” Vainqueur said. “Now you will see the inside of my bowels, which should be a first for you.”
Vainqueur chomped the thief and swallowed him whole. Like every ratling, it tasted like dung and garbage, so much that the dragon almost vomited.
Sometimes, Vainqueur wondered why the lesser species thought trying to steal from him was a good idea. The matter bugged him so much, he promised himself he would ask the next one trying, unless the food wised up.
“That was all?” Vainqueur asked, puzzled. While he would have been annoyed at a thief, the fact they had caught him before he touched his hoard made the incident a mere afterthought. Nothing to rampage over. “What happened next?”
“Then you left for groceries, Your Majesty… w-with the big bag… and you didn’t come back.”
By now, Vainqueur was confused. He wasn’t hungry, so he had found the food he sought back then. What could have angered him so much? Also, he didn’t have the grocery bag with him when he woke up.
More and more puzzled, Vainqueur flew away without a word, the wind from his wings throwing the goblin on his back. He decided to check his usual grocery places, in case it jogged his memory.
The dragon quickly reached his favorite farmlands, finding the remains of barns and pens. Some sheep eating grass fled at his coming, and Vainqueur noticed his own footprint in the middle of a broken fence.
Clearly he had done his groceries before being interrupted. By what? Vainqueur circled above the area, observing every detail, smelling the air...
Suddenly, among the smell of manlings and cattle, he noticed the stinking, horrible scent of a fairy.
Yes, he remembered.
“Little Wyrm has lost her sheep, And can't tell where to find them, Leave them alone, and they'll come home…”
Vainqueur sung to himself, as he ripped off the roof of a barn, manling whelps screaming and running away on horses. He found cows, pigs, and sheep inside, making sounds at his arrival.
Let the shopping spree begin.
With one hand, the dragon cheerfully seized a cow, then put it in the bag. Then he seized two pigs and wondered if he should take the sheep with him. He would burn some fat returning home, and he wouldn’t mind a snack in the middle of the road.
“Vainqueur Knightsbane…” His ears picked up his name spoken in elder draconic, and his nose the smell of a fairy. Vainqueur instantly turned towards the source, hate and disdain in his eyes.
Springing from the dirt behind him, a fomor stared back.
This abominable, sworn foe of dragonkind was two times smaller than Vainqueur; a deformed centaur with the lower body of a spider, and the upper half was humanoid. The torso was disproportionately larger than the lower half, covered with an insect-like armor; the left arm was a centipede with sharp blades for mandibles, the left one a crimson hand. Eight multicolored eyes looked at Vainqueur from the creature’s head, with a row of pointed teeth underneath.
“I am Mag Mell,” the fairy presented himself with a chittering voice, although Vainqueur already knew the creature. That fairy had created half the beasts the fairy lords sent against dragons during the war, from trolls to werewolves. “Father of monsters.”
“I am Vainqueur Knightsbane,” he replied. “I can do everything you do, but better.”
The formor hissed at the dragon’s rebuke, a chilling cold filling the air.
“Have you come to glare at me?” Vainqueur said at the creature with disdain. “Or to die?”
“Others will die,” the fomor replied, his voice low and heavy. “All the New Folk who pollute our lands will die. Such is the word of our champion, Mighty King Balaur.”
“Balaur?” That overmighty dullahan? Vainqueur snorted. “I could eat him whole in one bite.”
“That was long ago, and this is now. He has grown, and so has his hatred. He is the strongest of all fomors.”
“Not as strong as me,” Vainqueur replied with pride. “The strongest of your kind would still be no match for the weakest of dragonkind!”
“Yet many of you we killed, in the dark days.”
“They suffered from birth defects!” Vainqueur defended his kind’s honor. “It doesn’t count.”
“Only us fomors are forever,” Mag Mell replied, having no answer to Vainqueur’s implacable logic. “You are the greatest of dragonkind. The great calamity of this age, or so you pretend.”
“I pretend nothing. I am.”
“Then, my King has an offer for you. Fight at his side, and paint this green land red.”
“Why would a fomor ask for a dragon’s help?”
“Soon, we shall wage a great war. A great Wild Hunt we gather, a horde of millions. We will spill the blood of the mortals until we have slain the last of them. Then, we shall take our war to their nest, that world they call Earth. Outremonde shall be ours again, as it was during the old days. A quiet land, where the Old Folk rules.”
“I have always ruled, and I still do,” Vainqueur replied, looking down on the fairy with condescension. “It is your kind who has grown weak enough to get defeated by manlings.”
“Other dragons have died to them too.”
“The mortal are vermin, and the magic they use a disease. Diseases are cured, and the vermin which carry it, silenced. We will hunt them into their houses, and cradle their children to sleep until Outremonde is pure again. There will be a great reward for joining in this carnage, Vainqueur. A tribute of fairy gold and mortal flesh.”
“Why would I exterminate my favorite food? If I kill all the puny races, where will I find coins and princesses? Have you thought of the logistics, fairy? Do you think?”
“We can raise gold from the air, and shape slaves from the dirt. With one hand, we create life; with the other, we take it.”
“I would rather eat coins than trust a fomor!” The dragon extended his wings. “Begone, fairy, before I devour you. Vainqueur Knightsbane is no one’s pet.”
“Then, on this day of the solstice, mark the words of Mag Mell. In time, the New Folk, too, will come for you and your kind.”
The abominable fairy cursed in its archaic language, becoming one with the earth and vanishing from Vainqueur’s sight. The dragon delighted then returned to his shopping—
“The solstice is today?” Vainqueur panicked. “I forgot!”
Quick, he needed a princess! Any princess!
Vainqueur tried to remember what was so important about the solstice, but his memory remained foggy.
Had the fomor cast a spell on him? Why would he need a princess? Not that he wouldn’t mind getting one, but his own Bragging Day and the Princess Hunting Season were far, far away.
Vainqueur left his shopping barn to try and retrace his way, finding the ruins of isolated elfling castles nearby. The dragon could recognize the melted stone he left behind anywhere, and the more he saw, the more his memory slowly came back...
When he reached a half-collapsed castle with three towers, Vainqueur had a new flashback.
He had to destroy three castles, but he found an elfling princess with golden hair. Just the way she would love it.
Having barged inside their throne room by collapsing the castle’s walls, Vainqueur seized the screaming princess and prepared to put her in the grocery bag with the cows. Guards and maids had run away at his coming… with one exception.
An elfling wearing crimson armor and a cloak pointed a rusty toothpick at him. “Vainqueur!” Much to Vainqueur’s surprise, this elfling spoke in draconic with a somewhat good accent. “At long last, we meet again!”
“Elfling, while it pleases me that your kind is starting to learn the one true language,” Vainqueur replied in his own tongue. “I am too busy today to help you commit suicide. Fall on your sword on your own.”
“You will not ignore me, villain. I’m fifty-seven!” Pfft, Vainqueur was already bigger than their puny houses at that age. Not impressed. “I am Oersted, of Colognenburg!”
“Yes, whom?” Vainqueur repeated to the stupid animal.
“Oersted!” The elfling insisted, apparently too dim to understand Vainqueur’s words even in his own tongue. And here people wondered why dragons needed minion translators. “You burned my city fifteen years ago!”
He did? Vainqueur observed the elfling closely, trying to identify him, but… nope. “Which one?”
The elfling shook. “You do not remember.”
“Elfling, if you are here to bore me to death, stop right there. I am immortal, but my patience is not. Either get to the heart of the matter or get lost.”
“In the west, near the sea! There is a white, chalk cliff nearby.”
A chalk cliff? Ah! “Yes, I remember!” Vainqueur said, the elfling’s head perking up. “That is the city with the big clock?”
“We don’t have a clocktower. Our water clock was destroyed fifty years ago to put out a fire caused by a drag—” The elfling froze, before glaring at Vainqueur. “You burned our city twice?!”
“Your villages all look the same,” Vainqueur replied. “How do you expect me to remember every place I visited for groceries? After a time they all start blurring together.”
“You think I overturn your villages because I like it? Frankly, it would be much easier if you left your cattle and princesses on display for me to take. I have better things to do than rip off your fragile roofs or collapse your towers; which I deeply regret every time I do.” Towers were beautiful, like mountains.
“You… you monster! Why? Why can’t you leave us in peace?”
“I allow you people to live in my world, is that not enough? I am good and generous, but do not ask too much.”
“You… you…” The elfling knight finished shaking, putting both hands on the rusty pommel of his blade. “This is the thousand years old Sword of Leone! I spent years looking for it, investing all my skills in swordsmanship until I could find and master this blade! By it, you shall meet your fate.”
Huh? That toothpick looked very old and fragile. “What is that supposed to do?”
“To kill you!”
With a surge of speed whom Vainqueur had to admit surprised him, the knight charged at him and hit him in the chest with his tiny blade.
The sword broke against Vainqueur’s scales.
The elfling knight looked at his broken blade, almost as disappointed as the dragon himself.
“But… but, this is the thousand years old sword of Leone! It shouldn’t break!” Vainqueur rolled his eyes at the sight of this crying animal. Elves. Sometimes, he wondered what was up with humanoids and their obsession with old, outdated swords.
After all, if they were that precious and powerful, why would anyone leave them in some cave in the middle of nowhere?
Still, understanding he wouldn’t be free until he helped the suicidal elf, the dragon ate him whole in one bite while he was still crying over his broken weapon.
He put the screaming princess in the grocery bag and flew away towards the great river region.
The great river region?
Ah, he was visiting family. Why bring a princess though? To brag?
Vainqueur flew towards the great river crossing through the immense continent, witnessing river serpents and turtle monsters swimming in the current below. As he approached his cousins’ territories, he ended up finding one in a compromising situation, right on the riverbank.
His favorite cousin, Genialissime, was a wind dragon, a beautiful beast with silvery feathers over his scales; like most of dragonkind, he was much smaller than Vainqueur but still big enough to eat manlings whole.
The black wyrm, Blightswamp, laid next to him, with Genialissime having put a paw on her belly. While Vainqueur’s cousin seemed awake, she was in a deep, restful sleep. Still, an outsider couldn’t mistake the sight for what it was.
… they had bred?
“Vainqueur?” Genialissime raised his head to look at him, sounding tired. “You sobered up?”
Sobered up? “You bred with Blightswamp,” Vainqueur said, disgusted. He knew Genialissime liked breeding, but the elder wyrm knew where she had been. She lived in a marsh! “Blightswamp.”
“It… wasn’t as bad as you think. Also, this is your fault.”
Vainqueur glared back. “How is it my fault that you cannot keep your eggs home?”
“You hurt her self-esteem, I had to give her a wing to cry on.”
What? “Look, Genialissime, I do not remember anything from yesterday,” he admitted. “You seem to, however.”
“It does not surprise me. You were in a terrible mood yesterday.” His cousin shuddered, making Vainqueur worry about what he had done. “Do you remember what day it is?”
“The day after the solstice?”
Genialissime sighed, frustrating Vainqueur. “And who was to have her Bragging Day on the solstice?”
Bragging Day… Solstice…
“Ah, yes I remember,” Vainqueur said, his memory coming back to him. “It was Jolie’s first Bragging Day!”
“Uncle Vainqueur, Uncle Vainqueur!” His adorable, tiny spitfire of a niece squealed at seeing him land in front of her cave, near the riverbank. Much to Vainqueur’s annoyance, he noticed half a dozen dragons had arrived before him. “You came!”
“How could I miss my sweet niece’s first Bragging Day!” Vainqueur nuzzled his adorable kin. She was a red dragon barely the size of a big horse, who had learned to fly very recently. “I brought you a present!”
“A present?” She looked up at him with big, cute eyes. “Is it a minion? Uncle Grognon gave me my first minion too, a catkin kitten! Is it another?”
“No, even better!” Vainqueur searched inside his grocery bag, ignoring the pigs and bringing out his elfling captive, who kept whining and shivering. “A princess!”
“A princess!” Jolie began to cry in joy, as he looked at her present. “My first princess?!”
“She makes a whining sound when you squeeze her,” Vainqueur told his niece how to use the princess doll. “Be wary of knights trying to steal her away.”
“Oh, can I dress her up? Can I dress her up?”
“Any way you want, my sweet firedrake.”
Vainqueur put the princess doll on Jolie’s hoard, inside the cave. It was a tiny hoard, of copper coins and treasures she had managed to scrape together as a young wyrm, but every dragon present would give her positive reinforcement for her first Bragging Day. She would have all the time to work hard for her fame when she was all grown up.
“I will feed her fishes!” Jolie said, grabbing the princess by the robe with her mouth and lifting her up. “Totheriver!”
Ah, this reminded Vainqueur of his first Bragging Day, after he paid back the gold debt he owed to his parent for bringing him into the world. He watched his niece fondly, hoping she would grow almost as big as him in a few centuries.
“Hey, Vainqueur!” The red dragon turned his immense head towards the newcomer, Genialissime. “Long time no see!”
“Genialissime!” Vainqueur saluted his cousin. “How are you?”
“Great! I think I will organize a Bragging Day in ten years or so, after the new Princess Hunt Season.” He glanced at Jolie’s hoard. “I am so proud of her, gathering a hoard at her age…”
“Yes, especially since her father had a birth disability.” Vainqueur’s brother had been killed by elflings, whom the red dragon had helped commit assisted suicide afterward. “I hope she hasn’t inherited it.”
“Yeah, being killable sucks as an illness. I can’t believe so many of us developed it the last ten centuries. It’s like a plague the puny races carry with them.” Genialissime glanced at the various invites, especially a black female wyrm. “Hey, Vainqueur, there is a new dwarf city nearby. Blightswamp and I discussed it, and we think we will crash the place after Jolie is done bragging about her hoard.”
“The Bragging Day hasn’t even begun, and you are already preparing the afterday feast?”
“That is a good question. A better question is, will you follow us?”
Mmmm… “I always get drunk when I eat dwarves, even if they are fat and tasty. I never find the way back to my lair afterward.”
“Come on, just eat a few. I will stop your excessive consumption, as your afterday handler.”
… why not? He hadn’t eaten dwarves in a long while.
How bad could it be?
“I became drunk on eating dwarves?”
“You ate three dwarves, and then you couldn’t stop! You became crazy violent, you burned everything!” Genialissime frowned. “And when Blightswamp and I tried to restrain you, you called her by the W-word.”
The dragon looked at his cousin, horrified. “I called her a wyvern?”
“Yes, yes, you did. She was mad, but thankfully I’m fertile.” Genialissime shook his head. “You have a serious dwarf intolerance, Vainqueur.”
“Oh, by the elder wyrm, I am so sorry,” Vainqueur said, horrified he had called a true dragon, even one who lived in a swamp, a wyvern. ”And Jolie? Did she have a good Bragging Day?”
“Ah? Ah, yes, she had a fun first Bragging Day, regaling us with the tales of her adventures hunting copper coins in the wild. I think she really likes the princess you brought her. She kept parading her by the robe to everyone. It’s a very shy princess though, she kept crying all the time.”
Vainqueur would have loved to find a better princess, but he had been running out of time. Still, he was happy his niece had enjoyed his present. “Do you know where I left my grocery bag?” the red dragon asked. That was the last unresolved mystery.
“I think you burned it during your rampage.”
Argh, he would have to order his goblin minions to sew him another! Vainqueur disliked eating the food surrounded by manling peasants’ dung.
Come to think of it, seeing the deserted region after his rampage, Vainqueur had probably scared the food away for miles. He would have to fly for hours to find a manling shopping barn now, and maybe days to catch a princess.
Vainqueur decided that he would migrate south, to a more populated area with food close. He had heard the Albain Mountains were nice. Frosty, but tall enough for him; the climb would also discourage thieves, with no ratling to try to take his treasures from him.
Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of his Name, Great Calamity of this Age, and King of the Albain Mountain. It sounded great.
He promised himself never to eat dwarves again though.