“Uncle Vainqueur!” Jolie rejoiced, as the Emperor of All landed in her open lair with his chief of staff. “You’ve come!”
“Jolie, how beautiful you are today!” Vainqueur scratched his niece between the horns as he did back when she was a dragonling, making her wriggle in pleasure. She had grown fatter on demon meat, just like him. “Who is my favorite dragon, after me? You are!”
Vainqueur remembered promising himself to rampage in Maure’s flying demon farm, back when he had confronted that grasshopper for the first time. He had been recalled to his hoard before he could properly crush the moth and ravage his land, so Jolie had beaten him to it.
His niece, her minions, and Knight Kia had cleaned up the city the same way Vainqueur’s guests had with Murmurin, destroying most of the houses and leaving beautiful, flat ruins laying everywhere. Jolie had decided to celebrate by hosting a sitting party of her own, drinking a strange green liquid from an amphora.
“Hello again, Victor.” Knight Kia drank her own tiny cup next to her griffon, giving one to Manling Victor. “You look like you need a vacation.”
“And you look like you just came back from one,” the Vizier replied. “You stormed out angrily last time I saw you.”
“I still do not agree with half the things you guys allow in your country, but it was damn satisfying to put an end to Maure’s regime for good,” Kia said with a happy smile. “I leveled up after we finished cleaning up this city of its last demons. Do you know how long it has been since I did? More than years.”
“You didn’t gain a new level since defeating King Balaur?” Victor asked. “How many demons did it take?”
“Plenty,” she chuckled. “The rest of the elves accepted to become Jolie’s minions in exchange for being spared.”
“I gave them ribbons!” Jolie said. “Elf kittens are adorable with ribbons.”
Vainqueur never understood the appeal of those grasshoppers among his kind. But he was interested in the strange, green liquid his niece consumed. “What is this?”
“It’s green herbal tea from the Jade Empire, further east,” Kia explained. “I heard rumors their emperor sought guidance from a wise dragon.”
“Of course, who but a dragon could properly lead a country?” Vainqueur said although he wondered why his kindred hadn’t become emperor himself. He must have been too occupied growing his hoard. Jolie gave her uncle a large bowl, allowing him to taste—and spit out—the drink. “Argh, it tastes like grass!”
“Tea is made with herbs, Your Majesty,” Manling Victor said.
“Do you have cow milk?” Vainqueur asked his niece, who shook her head. “Sheep blood then? Any meat juice?”
“Have you found the Apple?” Manling Victor asked his kindred while Vainqueur complained about the lack of edible drink, who shook her head. “So Melodieuse still has it. That spells trouble.”
“Unfortunately, she could be anywhere in the world. Unlike most fomors, she can pass for a human easily enough even without magic.”
“She smells like the rest of her fairy kind, no matter how she looks,” Vainqueur replied. “I will eat her after this Blue Rose Legion. I will avenge slights in order of personal importance.”
“Thank you, my liege,” Victor replied with obsequiousness. “I’m glad to hear you put my actual death right behind your fake one.”
“That is because I care,” Vainqueur replied with a satisfied nod.
“Since she’s obviously planning against Gardemagne, and now your country, Melodieuse will probably make the first move,” Kia said. “Nostredame told me her magical might surpassed his own, so she is not to be underestimated.”
Vainqueur snorted. That fairy had hidden behind her minions, the same way Maure had. He was not impressed.
“I will protect you, Kia,” Jolie promised the knight, apparently having grown fond of her as much as Vainqueur liked his chief of staff. “I will not let a fairy touch your strange head hair!”
“Thank you, Jolie. Likewise, I shall be your sword and shield.” Kia turned to Victor. “So you’re going to challenge the Tower of Sablar? Not without me.”
“Yeah, I would welcome extra muscle,” Victor said, “The place is too dangerous for the other minions.”
“It was the magical superweapon the cult of Sablar used to turn the old elf empire into a monster-infested desert,” Kia nodded. “It is full of powerful elementals, magical entities, golems, undead—”
“No liches,” Vainqueur said.
“Mummies. My old party and I considered challenging it before the final battle with Balaur since it contains ancient, powerful artifacts, but we never got around to it.”
“Uncle Vainqueur, can I come?” Jolie looked at her uncle with her big teary eyes. “Pleaaase?”
“Of course, Jolie,” Vainqueur nodded, eager to impress his niece with his adventurer know-how.
“Thanks!” Jolie said, approaching her head from Knight Kia. “Kia, you are so beautiful and strong and kind. Do you want to become my chief of staff? Pleaaaase!”
Vainqueur gasped, as Manling Kia hesitated. She looked at Friend Victor for guidance, the Doer of the Thing madly waving one finger to encourage her. “Jolie, I am very honored,” Knight Kia said, “but I cannot accept.”
“But I will put golden ribbons in your hair, and cuddle you!” Jolie pleaded. “We will be as close as uncle and Manling Victor! We’ll go on great adventures and rescue princesses together!”
“How dare you refuse my niece’s offer?” Vainqueur angrily browbeat Manling Kia, “Look at her. Look at her! She is the second most beautiful dragon in the world after me! Her scales are like rubies, and her eyes shine like gold!”
“I am very honored,” Knight Kia remained obstinate in her mistake, “But I am a knight and your friend, not an assistant. Sorry, Victor.”
“Manling Victor! Defend your profession’s honor!” Vainqueur ordered his minion.
“It has its perks when you get used to it,” his lackey said, which wasn’t the passionate speech his master had hoped for.
In fact, it didn’t convince Knight Kia. “It’s nothing against you, Jolie. I consider you a friend, but I value my independence and dignity more.”
“Your dignity? What greater honor can a dragon bestow upon a manling, besides making them their prized chief of staff?” Vainqueur complained. “My niece is too good for you, Knight Kia. You disappoint me so much.”
“I will let you ride on my back!” Jolie insisted, making Vainqueur freeze in shock. “Like you do with your griffon!”
The Knight’s jaw dropped, as did Manling Victor’s. “Ride your back?” Kia and Vainqueur choked both at once.
“Yes! You will swing your sword while on my back, and I will roar ‘RAWR’ as I fly! Please, accept!”
“Riding… a true dragon’s back…” Knight Kia said nothing, glancing at her griffon, who glared back with jealousy. “I… I…”
“Jolie, no!” Vainqueur pleaded with his niece. He knew she was in a teenage rebellion phase, but this went too far! “You will confuse the minions about the food chain if you allow them to ride you!”
“Uncle, that is a backward mentality!” Jolie replied. “Allowing a minion to sit on your back is the true progressive attitude!”
“No, the proper way to socialize with a manling is to constantly remind them of their place; this ensures that they grow into responsible minions. Look at Manling Victor! Thanks to my proper guidance, he went from a purposeless thief to a half-dragon!”
“Oh, Kia can become half-dragon too?” This only encouraged Jolie. “A dragon riding a dragon would be awesome!”
“I… I am tempted but…” Knight Kia shivered at both her mount and Vainqueur’s glare, but her species shameful obsession with dragon riding prevailed. “Under one condition.”
“Yes!” Jolie answered.
“NO!” Vainqueur roared.
“I do not want to be subservient to someone else, so… I will become your chief of staff if you become my squire… and let me ride on your back.” Knight Kia’s griffon let out an angry roar at the betrayal. “I’m not abandoning you, Twilight! I will still ride you, I swear!”
Squire? Vainqueur remembered where he had heard that word, back in his first adventure with Manling Victor. “A squire is a kind of minion!”
“So, you will become my minion, if I become your minion too?” Much to Vainqueur’s horror, Jolie actually considered the terrible, insane offer.
“That way, our relationship shall be that of equals,” Kia said. “We become partners, instead of master and servant.”
“And by becoming a squire, she could take levels in a Knight class,” Minion Victor said, making his master aghast.
“Minion Victor, do not encourage her!”
“What? Now that the cat is out of the bag, at least she should choose a good class.”
“No niece of mine will ever become a minion!” Vainqueur insisted. “Jolie, if you let this… perversion of our ancient dragon institution happen, I will stop gifting you princesses for your Bragging Days!”
“But, but…” Jolie began to cry. “But Uncle…”
“No uncle, young dragonling,” Vainqueur resisted this attempt at playing on his feelings. She would thank him for this when she grew up and matured. “The minion, or the princesses.”
Jolie tearfully looked at her uncle, then at Knight Kia, and finally back at her uncle.
Hopefully, she had seen reason.
“She lets her ride on her back,” Vainqueur said, crestfallen. “On her back, Manling Victor. Like a wyvern.”
He watched Knight Kia ride his niece like a horse, as the two dragons flew through that damn desert searching for the dungeon. The sight of Jolie wriggling as Knight Kia raised her blade under the sun, reveling in her perversity, disgusted him.
“My niece…” Vainqueur kept complaining. “My niece, ridden by a manling…”
“Which you never allowed me to do,” Manling Victor complained, following his master.
“And never will!” Vainqueur roared back. “See, this only encourages that kind of unreasonable comment!”
“Your niece is truly the Rosa Parks of dragonkind,” Friend Victor replied, although Vainqueur did not understand the reference.
“The world must not know,” Vainqueur ordered his minion. “You will keep this… this… this, quiet, until I can convince my niece to see reason. I trust you not to reveal this secret, alongside that of dragon mortality.”
His chief of staff shrugged, as a great structure came into sight; Vainqueur briefly mistook it for a hill before approaching it further. Half buried into the sand, a twisted pyramid of black stone loomed over the dunes, dwarfing the Castle of Murmurin in size. A crimson crystal, which Vainqueur recognized as fairy work, shone at the tip of the structure.
The dragon may have considered this place as a nice lair, if it didn’t smell of fairies, dead elves, and ghosts.
“Here is it,” said Manling Victor, paling at the sight. “The Tower of Sablar.”
“Manling Victor, this is not a tower,” Vainqueur replied. “This is a pyramid. I can tell the difference.”
“Maybe the builders had a different name for it, I cannot say,” his chief of staff replied, while Jolie and Knight Kia circled the pyramid looking for an entrance. "I heard it reached the stars at its height."
Another manling lie. That pyramid did not even reach the clouds.
As he watched his lackey fly, a thought crossed Vainqueur’s mind. “Manling Victor, since you have wings and a tail, can you now breathe fire?”
“I never could figure out how,” Manling Victor replied. “I think I may need more levels in [Monster Knight] before I can achieve it.”
“Guys!” Knight Kia shouted at them, Jolie having stopped flying in front of the pyramid’s left side. “Look!”
Vainqueur followed, and squinted. His niece faced a huge, dragon-sized hole in the pyramid. “I’m pretty sure this is recent,” Knight Kia said.
“This is concerning,” Manling Victor said. “A monster escaped from within? No, the stones point to something getting in.”
“See, Jolie,” Vainqueur taught his niece. “This is how I conquered the castle of the evil Furibon; by making a path instead of playing by the lich’s rules.”
“My minion read me your book!” Jolie said happily. “The wealthy always win!”
“Indeed we always do,” Vainqueur replied, flying into the hole to enter the pyramid.
Whoever had gotten there had done it the dragon way; crushing anything its path, smashing through walls, tossing marble elf statues to the ground, leaving only ruins in its path. Mosaics representing scenes of slaughter and mass manling sacrifices had been defaced, pillars overturned…
As he landed on the dusty ground and observed the chaos, Vainqueur couldn’t help but frown. The one responsible had demolished the decorations like a savage beast, even those which would complement his hoard. Reptilian and corpse-like creatures, whom the dragon assumed had been the minion keepers of the area, had been frozen in blocks of ice and stuffed on display.
“Wow,” Manling Victor said, as Kia climbed down from Jolie to join them. “I think we’re late to the party.”
“It must have happened yesterday,” Kia replied after examining the scene closely, frowning. “Wait, have I missed a big battle again?”
Frozen minions… a beast with absolutely no artistic taste...
Vainqueur’s eyes widened as he realized who caused this. “No!” he shouted, rushing through the destroyed pathway while ignoring the others. “NO!”
Within seconds, he reached a large, rounded vault, which must have been the treasure room. The invaders had stripped it of everything of value, of every last coin; leaving only dust, a bandaged corpse, and a message painted on a wall in old dragonian.
‘Guess who got here first and grabbed all the gold?’
Your social better,