It had been a long time since Vainqueur had visited the lands far east of the Albain Mountains.
The manlings called it the Harmonian League, or so his chief of staff told him. To him, they were just hunting grounds he had briefly visited before his hibernation. After the mountains and the nearby lakes, the landscape could be resumed as green, grassy plains, crossed by long manling stone roads or farmer fields. Groups of manlings and beastkin, whom Vainqueur assumed to be merchants, cowered at the sight of the dragon flying above them.
“Minion, where is this Garland hiding?” Vainqueur asked, growing bored with the lack of change in scenery. They had planned to tackle a few easy quests on the way, namely hunting the Badalisc Beast, eating bandits, and escorting a merchant caravan.
He had to make this revenge trip profitable. He wouldn’t let avenging his reputation get in the way of a nice reward.
“According to the map, he’s hiding at Lagon, one of the biggest of the fallen city-states.” Unlike his master, he seemed to enjoy the landscape. “The League used to be a loose alliance of them until they betrayed Gardemagne for King Balaur during the Century War. Gardemagne and Barin ended up conquering their lands and splitting them in two.”
That served the fools right. Never trust a fairy. “I can smell cooked manling in the air,” Vainqueur said.
“The region is still unstable. While Lagon and the northern cities swore fealty to Gardemagne, they’re still quarrelsome. And since the local nobles make heavy use of mercenaries to harass their rivals’ lands, people like the Scorchers flocked there to find work and protection.”
“Minion, I mean cooked manlings, with spice; not a burned village.” Vainqueur recognized the scent, flying towards its source. He had an inkling to who was responsible, and it justified a detour.
As he expected, Vainqueur found his favorite cousin cooking meat around a large campfire, while a little manling ate a chicken nearby. “Genialissime!”
“Vainqueur, Manling Victor!” the other dragon rejoiced, as the Emperor of Murmurin landed next to the campfire. Much to Vainqueur’s confusion, he had started wearing a pointed, dragon-sized blue hat over his horns, like his cousin’s crown. “Good to see you! Have you come to visit?”
“No, but this is a welcome surprise,” Vainqueur replied, before looking at the breakfast.
“I’m cooking bandits!” Genialissime replied, before offering Vainqueur a stick covered with juicy meat. “Do you want some? It’s claw lickin’ good.”
“No, thank you, I have sheeps in my travel bag.” Genialissime may have been a talented cook among dragonkind, but Vainqueur found manlings bland, even with seasoning.
“I guess our bandit hunting quest is toast, then.” His own chief of staff covered his nose to protect himself from the smell of his cooked kindred, before landing near the other manling nearby. Both exchanged a frown as if they recognized one another.
“Henry?” Manling Victor said. The name jogged Vainqueur’s memory enough to remember the bespectacled Class Scholar from the stinking city of Haudemer. “Henry, is that you? You're alive?”
“Victor? Is that you? Are those real wings?”
“Yeah, I had a, shall we call it, a class accident.”
“Fascinating…” Manling Henry muttered. “I knew some Monster Classes could change the user’s type, but I didn’t imagine [Monster Squire] would…”
“Oh, you know my class planner, Manling Victor?” Genialissime nodded in appreciation. “I have taken twelve levels in [Wizard] thanks to his guidance. He even found me this [Hat of the Aqua Mage] to bolster my spells!”
“You have a class planner too?” Vainqueur asked while bringing out his sheeps for breakfast.
“Yes, I figured that I needed a minion like your Victor, who could help me become the best dragon I could be. So I searched the cities whom you visited, dear cousin, and I asked them if they had a chief of staff in between jobs. Manling Henry immediately jumped at the occasion to serve me until the end of times.”
“I… I made, through no fault of my own, a powerful enemy,” Henry admitted. “I figured no one would dare attack a dragon, even someone with her reach. It also allowed me to pursue my research on dragon classes.”
“As long as I am here, Minion Henry, none shall touch you,” Genialissime reassured his chief of staff. “And if anything happens, I will go to a minion repairman to patch you up.”
“Corpseling Jules,” Vainqueur told his minion, who clearly didn’t understand the term. “A minion who can repair other minions if they break.”
“You mean when they die?”
“Yes, when they break.”
“Do you want some, Manling Victor?” Genialissime offered him a meat stick.
Manling Victor glanced at the stick with revulsion, clearly not a full dragon yet. “I have chicken,” Henry said.
“Thank the gods,” Victor muttered.
“My cooking is so good, nobody dares taste it,” Genialissime replied with pride, swallowing the stick whole.
“Victor, I, uh…” Henry bit his lips. “I would like to apologize.”
“For ratting me out to the Scorchers?” Manling Victor shrugged. “It’s fine. I got more than five levels out of it, and considering how they treated you afterward, I guess that makes us even.”
Manling Henry did that? While the debacle with the duchess remained clear in his mind, Vainqueur had long forgotten how they dealt with those Scorchers. “So, Genialissime, which classes have you progressed in?” Vainqueur asked, eager to learn if one had made him richer.
“I have tried to take levels in [Crusader] on Minion Henry’s suggestion,” Genialissime said. “So I could heal in battle. Since I am a dragon, and obviously unable to die, I brushed him off. Instead, my class planner ensured that I could progress as a [Wizard], increasing my intelligence.”
“What was your starting score?” Vainqueur prodded, brushing away the shameful secret of dragon mortality.
“Square root forty-nine!” Genialissime said proudly.
Vainqueur breathed in relief. Lower than his own.
“I was actually considering Your Majesty’s newest options,” Manling Victor said, as he bit in a cooked chicken. “Our last ‘battle’ made me realize that Your Majesty is optimized for combat and authority, but may need more utility Perks. I was thinking about a magical class like [Wizard].”
“I would say [Crusader] or [Priest] could supplement a dragon’s natural abilities,” Manling Henry suggested. “But the person must worship a god.”
Vainqueur scoffed, before pondering the matter. “Can I worship myself?” He did intend to become a god one day if only to get his money back; if he worked his way up with his own church...
“No,” Manling Victor replied quickly.
“But I am worth it!” Vainqueur complained.
“Oh, can we worship our hoard?” Genialissime asked cunningly. “If they are shiny enough?”
“Worshiping money?” Manling Henry frowned. “I do not think it will work. In fact, the ability to tap into divine classes is what proves the deity’s divinity. If you cannot gain power by worshiping them, then they are not divine.”
Mmm. A true hoard was too good for the heavens anyway. Besides, wasn’t [Crusader] Knight Kia’s class? Vainqueur would rather take any class that the corrupter of the youth touched first.
“Why not [Geomancer]?” Manling Henry suggested.
“[Geomancer]?” Manling Victor and Vainqueur asked at the same time.
“[Geomancer]. It is a Spellcaster Class that allows the caster control over the land, but its Perks need an enormous amount of SP. A dragon has so much in store it won’t be a problem. Genialissime told me you were ruling a country?”
“Yes, without taxes,” Vainqueur replied proudly.
“[Geomancer] would be extremely useful then,” Manling Henry nodded. “It can help with landscaping, agriculture…”
Vainqueur considered the matter. Casting spells wasn’t indragon, unlike being a merchant. “Can it make me richer?” the dragon asked the only important question.
“I definitely see a few ways it can,” Manling Victor said, satisfying his master. “How can you access it?”
“How about we discuss it, while you tell me everything about your class’ evolution?”
“Deal,” Manling Victor said.
While their chiefs of staff exchanged class tips, Genialissime turned to his cousin. “Vain, Jolie has set up lair with you, has she?”
“Yes, but I have her grounded,” Vainqueur replied. “She is in a rebellious phase.”
“Youngsters.” Genialissime chuckled. “There have been worrying incidents recently, and I’m worried about her.”
“A few younger dragons have gone missing while going on their first quests,” Genialissime said, shaking his head at Vainqueur’s frown. “They probably had hidden disabilities, but Blightswamp won’t let our kids out of her sight now.”
“Did you imply my niece can die?” Vainqueur replied.
“No, of course not. No corpses were found, so this may be something else. But with the number of disappearances, you have to wonder.”
“I will keep an eye on Jolie.” The Emperor shrugged, before worrying slightly. He had never imagined that his niece could die, and the thought suddenly filled him with dread.
No. He was worrying too much. She could handle herself, and while he disliked her, Knight Kia was powerful. Jolie was in safe hands.
What happened to these young dragons, though?
- Sometimes later, in the city of Milani...
“What do you mean, protecting the caravan is no longer a problem?” Vainqueur complained.
“We already have a dragon protector, Magnifique the Great,” the manling showered a green dragon with praise, whom Vainqueur recognized as one of his guests.
“They offered to pay me forever as their ‘Don’ if I protected their city,” the dragon rejoiced. “I can watch my hoard grow without doing anything!”
“I did that with my empire, they reward my benevolent leadership with cattle,” Vainqueur replied, torn between happiness that he had inspired others to follow in his footsteps, and annoyance at being denied another quest.
“I am thinking about innovating in minion management,” the dragon continued. “There is that law of silence I would like to try..."
- Later in the morning, the village of Lombardia...
“The Badalisc? Oh, thanks, but the monster has already been slain by one of your scaled kindred, and…” The village’s mayor showed his teeth, sweat falling from his forehead. “Uh, how to say it…”
“You don’t need more help?” Manling Victor asked as Vainqueur noticed that some of the houses had been set ablaze. It reminded him of that time he had burnt a forest hunting trolls.
“Not that kind of help.”
“Minion,” Vainqueur said, as they flew along the eastern coast. “Informing my kindred of the Class System may have had some unforeseen side-effects...”
“Unforeseen, Your Majesty?” Manling Victor replied with a flat tone.
“I expected my kind to be competent, but not this much!” Vainqueur complained. They had gone through five manling villages, only to find other dragons had solved every quest available there!
“Yeah, that’s the thing with adventuring, it’s an open market and it often dries up,” Manling Victor shrugged. “And by now, I think going on quests might actually be counterproductive. We already have an unstable country to handle, and more than enough resources to exploit.”
“Handling this, while I do the dragon thing of getting paid for tasting lesser creatures, is your job, minion.”
“Yes, but that is work I’m not doing while adventuring with Your Majesty.”
“Your presence is essential for my class progression.” Besides, the one time he left his chief of staff without supervision during a battle, he had ended up dead. “Especially since I developed this [Dungeon Breeder] class.”
“Your Majesty is not whoring me out. I have paid my debt already.”
Vainqueur frowned at his chief of staff. “You can get paid for breeding?”
Before his minion could answer, a sharp spike of ice fell on them from the clouds.
“Minion!” Vainqueur warned his chief of staff, but the projectile was aimed at him alone. He quickly dodged it, glaring at the cloud it came from.
A detestable, familiar voice called out, as a winged white dragon appeared from the heavens above. “My social better, huh, Vainqueur?! My social better?!”
“Icefang!” Vainqueur snarled.
“You are not stealing my quest this time!” Icefang roared, claws extended. “Out of my way!”