As usual, both dragons opened their duel with their elemental breaths, Icefang unleashing ice, and Vainqueur a torrent of flames.
Of course, fire won.
Vainqueur’s flames pushed Icefang’s breath back, but the frost dragon skillfully dodged. The red dragon pursued him across the skies, knowing his rival wouldn’t stand a direct hit; he did notice that Icefang had grown faster and sleeker since their last duel, centuries ago.
“You may have become an [Emperor], Vainqueur, but I have leveled into the best classes this system offers!” Icefang raised his hands, manifesting star-shaped blocks of ice between his claws. “[Ice Shuriken]!”
He launched them at his rival, the projectiles moving in angles which Vainqueur himself couldn’t predict. The dragon disintegrated a few but had to fly around to dodge the others.
“[Otaku no Shunshin]!” Icefang joined his claws into a series of strange hand signs, his very body blurring.
|Icefang’s evasion has increased by three stages!|
“[Spell Purge]!” Vainqueur activated his own trump card, moving to catch Icefang in close combat and dispel his protections. However, his attempts to claw at Icefang proved fruitless; the slippery ice dragon danced around his blows like an eel.
“No magic, Vainqueur!” Icefang boasted. “All talent!”
“Stop!” Manling Victor shouted. “Please, stop!”
Vainqueur brushed off his chief of staff and prepared to blast Icefang from the skies with his breath, but his friend moved between the two rivals. “Minion! Get out of my firing line!”
“Your chief of staff is wise to surrender!” Icefang declared, interrupting his assault to gloat. “I am the wronged party there! Even your minion can see that!”
“Wronged party?” Vainqueur sneered. “What is my crime, being better than you? If so I confess!”
“Your taunts! You think I could forgive your insults to my social position?”
“What insults?” Manling Victor asked, constantly positioning himself so Vainqueur couldn’t attack without hurting him, much to his annoyance.
“His messages! Five times! Five times this month I try to complete a quest, only to find you,” Icefang pointed an accusing claw at his rival, “stole the glory from me and taunted me about it! All of this because you couldn’t handle the immense overnight success of my adventurer company!”
The admission was enough to make Vainqueur stop… if only to laugh. “Success?” Vainqueur couldn’t believe the nerve of this poser. “You named it after the second most precious metal!”
“Silver is good enough to make up most of a hoard!”
“That’s impossible,” Manling Victor interrupted. “His Majesty has been resting on his hoard for a month, and he completed only one quest last week.”
“Resting on your hoard for a month? How could any dragon waste that much time?” Icefang sneered, proving to Vainqueur that he had absolutely no taste.
“That is a rich dragon thing, you cannot understand,” the Emperor of Murmurin mocked his rival.
“Do you dare repeat this—”
“Your Majesty, High King Icefang, if I may—”
“It is High King President Icefang now, manling, with a capital H, K, and P,” the frost dragon interrupted Manling Victor. “I can tell the difference.”
“High King President Icefang, what was the content of the taunting messages?”
The frost dragon spat a block of ice to the ground below. “‘Guess who grabbed all the silver first? With love, your social better, Vainqueur!’”
Vainqueur frowned. “That was the same wording which you left in that pyramid.”
“What is a pyramid, a place for paupers?” Icefang asked.
“You have not been to the dungeon in the desert?” Vainqueur asked for confirmation, more and more puzzled.
“Why would I go to a desert? It is full of sand, it dirties my perfect scales.”
“Someone tricked you,” Vainqueur taunted Icefang. “Shame on you.”
“Well, Your Majesty, someone tricked both of y—”
“I knew it was a set-up, minion,” Vainqueur reassured his chief of staff. “No dragon could be vile enough to deface an artistic mural, not even Icefang. Obviously, someone tried to disguise their crime against dragonkind by lying, poorly.”
His rival scoffed. “You think I will believe this, Vainqueur?”
“Icefang, I swear on my minion’s head that I did not lower myself to insulting you.” He was already ridiculous without the red wyrm having to do anything. “And I will never let him die again, so be assured that Vainqueur Knightsbane’s honor is goldclad.”
“You, Slayer of Furibon,” Icefang turned to Manling Victor. “Do you swear on your head that he is telling the truth?”
Vainqueur’s chief of staff looked at his master with intimidated eyes, before nodding at the frost dragon. “I swear. We don’t have anything to do with this, and in fact, I suspect the one responsible pulled a similar stunt on us.”
“Mmm…” Icefang, while having poor taste, at least had the sense to recognize the truth. “Then whom could have slighted me? The messages were written in old dragonian.”
“A fairy,” Vainqueur guessed. “This would not be the first time they tried to divide dragonkind, and one attempted to ruin my Bragging Day.”
“Melodieuse would be the obvious suspect, but something has been bothering me,” Manling Victor said. “How can the responsible know Your Majesty would raid the Tower of Sablar?”
“Minion, that was no tower, but a pyramid,” Vainqueur insisted. “I will not allow improper grammar in my chief of staff.”
“High King President Icefang.” Manling Victor marked a short pause at the name. “Why did you attack us now?”
“The manling adventurer guild informed me of an unclaimed bounty in this stinking city,” Icefang replied. “That I could get paid by eating a certain Manling Garland.”
“I will not let you, Icefang!” Vainqueur roared. “He is mine! He slighted me personally!”
“I reached this city first!” his rival roared back, claws extended. “Find another quest! The money is mine!”
“Please, great noble dragons!” Manling Victor put himself between them. “How about we settle this with a compromise? We get Garland, and in exchange, V&V swears off any quest in the old Harmonian League.”
“What? Minion, you cannot suggest…” Vainqueur stopped himself, before pondering the matter thoughtfully. “Ah, I understand. Us fighting is exactly what the fairies want.”
“Yeah, they probably set you up hoping one would kill the other, or that they could finish off the wounded winner.”
If so, they had drastically underestimated Vainqueur, if they thought Icefang had a chance. “It is my duty as the noblest of dragons to take the high road,” the Emperor of Murmurin declared. “So I will deign to accept this wise peace settlement until I can eat the true miscreant.”
The frost dragon smelled a trap, but also an opportunity. “Mmm… I will deign accept this show of apology.”
“This is no apology,” Vainqueur glared at his one true nemesis. “I can get richer than you without questing in this land!”
“My company’s hoard has grown bigger than yours ever was!” Icefang lied brazenly.
“Laughable!” Vainqueur replied, his pride unable to let that slide. “And I will prove it! By the end of the harvest season, on the eve of Halloween, our adventurer companies shall compare their hoards, and mine’s shininess shall prevail over yours! The loser will recognize the winner as the greatest dragon in the world!”
“I relish the challenge!” Icefang accepted, before storming off. “You shall bow before my hoard, Vainqueur!”
Vainqueur seethed at his rival, watching him disappear beyond the clouds. “Manling Victor, I am proud of your plan,” he told his minion, once Icefang out of earshot, “This is the perfect win-win scenario.”
“Really?” his chief of staff raised an eyebrow. “I thought you would be mad.”
“Of course not. If I cannot find quests, then this land is worthless to me. I will get my revenge, and that idiot gets nothing! I won twice!”
Congratulations! For using your head and not falling into your enemies’ insidious trap, you have earned two levels in [Kaiser]! You earned the [Charged Attack (Dragon Breath)] Class Perk!
+60 HP, +2 STR, +2 VIT, +2 SKI, +2 AGI, +1 INT, +2 CHA, +1 LCK.
[Charged Attack (Dragon Breath)]: You can now charge your fiery breath, building up its power in your belly, before releasing a more potent version of it.
And that was just the cow on top of the sheep cake.
The manling city of Lagon was most uncommon. The manlings had built it on the water.
From what Vainqueur could see, the city had once been a hundred or so small islands, before the manlings linked them together with stone bridges. They further expanded into the sea by building stone platforms standing on wooden pillars buried underwater and even refashioned ships in disrepair into improvised buildings. While the dragon couldn’t for the life of him fathom why anyone would live with so much water nearby, he had to praise their design.
However, it took three tries before Vainqueur found a floating house that wouldn’t sink when he landed on the roof. The manlings should find better architects.
Thankfully, the citizens of this city seemed civilized enough to treat Vainqueur as the emperor he was and immediately agreed to give him both his target and a feast. They didn’t breed good livestock, but they had spicy tamed krakens.
His chief of staff, as usual, handled the translation with the locals while his master gorged himself on squids; citizens on gondolas regularly circled his own current ‘throne’ to look at him, with Vainqueur doing his best to look magnificent to impress them.
“Your Majesty.” Manling Victor eventually came back leading a gondola carrying a mighty manling. This tanned, barbarian man towered above his chief of staff, and carried a cloak, a bag, and a heavy helmet. “I present you Garland Renoir, former member of the Blue Rose Legion, retired Scorcher, and currently a mercenary captain in service to the city of Lagon.”
The condemned manling looked up at Vainqueur with sorrowful green eyes, while the dragon let out a belch after finishing his kraken. He hadn’t tried to run away—not that it would have helped— which saved Vainqueur the trouble of hunting him further. “I knew this day would come," he spoke with a grave voice, "Is it too late to say I’m sorry?”
“Yes,” Vainqueur glared at this worm. “Your sin against me is unforgivable!”
The man winced, cowering at the dragon’s divine judgment. “How much then?”
“How much?” Vainqueur repeated while squinting.
“How much not to eat me?” the manling offered, proving himself the smartest bandit in the world.
Vainqueur scoffed at the manling. “You believe you can buy me to forget your vile deed? Me? You think a dragon’s pride is for sale?”
“Twenty thousand gold coins?”
“That does not even cover the cost of my flight, not to mention my hono—”
Vainqueur marked a short pause, before turning to his chief of staff. “How much is his head worth?”
“Thirty-five thousand,” Manling Victor replied.
“Okay, what about fifty-five thousand?” the criminal proposed. “That covers my bounty and the money I got from my old lie. Pretty good deal, huh?”
The dragon pondered the question. His pride was second only to his lust for gold…
“Sixty thousand, twenty cattle, and you will have to make a formal, public apology to me in front of witnesses,” Vainqueur replied. “That is my first offer. The second is a trip to my bowels.”
“Okay,” Manling Garland immediately accepted. “I’ll take a bit of my company’s reserve fund, but I can scrap the money.”
“Your Majesty, he is a Scorcher,” Manling Victor pointed out. “He’s a wanted man before he murdered a baron and burnt his castle. Just saying nobody will miss him if you decide to eat him anyway.”
“Look, pal, you think I wanted to become a bandit?” the other manling replied angrily. “You think anyone wants to become a bandit? You think I went to some school and said to the teacher, ‘when I grow up, I wanna be the best thief there ever was’?”
“You don’t have to be snappy about it,” Manling Victor pouted.
“Times were hard, and my last employer didn’t pay me after I risked my life killing monsters for him. So I torched his place for the sake of my pride and took his stuff. Was that really ignominious?”
“I too have eaten a quest giver who would not pay me,” Vainqueur said, sympathizing with a fellow victim of manling ungratefulness.
“I’m doing honest sea monster hunting work there, enough that the city’s people didn’t turn me in to the royal authorities,” Garland continued. “I’m paying my debt to society. And I’m willing to pay the one I owe Yer dragon Majesty if you let me live long enough to do so.”
“Since you offered reparation, I shall find in my heart the mercy you lacked,” Vainqueur declared. “Because I am forgiving and merciful.”
“Yes, but are you really going to let him go?” Manling Victor seemed to struggle with his master's decision. “Don’t get me wrong, I am all about the diplomatic solution, but this sounds unlike Your Majesty.”
“Last time I forgave a thief and criminal, he became the best chief of staff in the world,” Vainqueur replied. “If this one is truly sorry for the vile crime he committed against my imperial person and offer a tribute in reparation, then I shall grant him a chance to turn his life around. Killing would be the petty manling thing, and I am a noble dragon. I am forgiving and merciful.”
“Oh, believe me, I’ve lived in fear since I heard you were back,” the former bandit said. “I feared that either you or my old employer would track me down for my lie.”
“I know the adventurer guild can be ruthless towards those who try to con them, but that was twenty years ago,” Manling Victor replied. “They had completely forgotten about you until we researched your identity.”
“Not the guild,” Garland shook his head. “We claimed the bounty they put on Yer Majesty’s head, but that wasn’t why we went after you. Somebody hired us to first.”
This caught Vainqueur’s full attention. “Explain,” he ordered the manling.
“You want the full story? Guess I owe you that.” Garland cleared his throat. “Two decades ago, I was an adventurer with my pals in Barin, one of the countries in the south; we were very good monster hunters. When our country Barsino joined Gardemagne in the Century War, the army hired us to help out against the fomors’ war beasts. The fairies and Brandon Maure fielded some nightmarish creatures, and they needed experts like us—”
“Manling, stop loving yourself,” Vainqueur interrupted. “I know it’s your kind’s favorite occupation, but I lose patience at more than twenty-five words.”
“Barsino crushed Maure’s forces and then marched through the Albain Mountains. We stayed in the area to kill monsters which could threaten the supply lines. That’s when someone approached us. Some freaky bard called Hamelin. The scary things he could do with his pipe… anyway, he had a job for us, with a big prize."
Garland marked a short pause, before going on further. “He told us a red dragon called Vainqueur Knightsbane hibernated somewhere in the mountains, but he couldn’t find his lair. He wanted us to find the wyrm, kill him, and then bring back his bones as trophy.”
Friend Victor looked up at his master, who trembled with silent fury. Manling Garland hesitated to continue, but Vainqueur restrained himself for now.
“We managed to find your lair, but when we saw you sleeping… and just how enormous you were… we… we… how to say that...”
“You chickened out?” Manling Victor suggested, the wording making Vainqueur hungrier.
“We tactically retreated,” Manling Garland denied his cowardice, while Friend Victor put a hand on his forehead. “We didn’t even touch the hoard for fear Yer Majesty would wake up.”
If they had, Vainqueur would have eaten him on the spot. He gave this manling a point for showing the willpower not to touch his hoard; a temptation that even Manling Victor couldn’t resist.
“We couldn’t go back empty-handed, so our [Astrologer] located old dragon fossils in the mountains. We dug them up, falsified them, and then we pretended they were yours. We tricked the guild and Hamelin, seized the reward, and then scattered to the winds in case anyone caught on.”
“How could you sully my name for money?” Vainqueur growled.
“The bard didn’t pay us with gold. He gave us top of the line magical items… such as this one.”
The manling mercenary opened his bag, bringing out a strange weapon which seemed vaguely familiar to Vainqueur: a long, heavy iron stick with a barrel at the end.
Manling Victor seemed to recognize the item, his eyes widening. “Holy hell, that’s—”
“The legendary weapon [Kalashnikov],” Manling Garland boasted. “Neat weapon, huh?”