“This is an indignity!” Vainqueur roared from atop a mountain of coins. “I will file a complaint!”
After conquering the capital city of the Teikoku Empire, Onogoro, Goblina the goblin had granted Vainqueur quarters in the palace’s rookery. Once used to welcome giant birds, the area was the only place capable of accommodating a dragon. Placed on a high pagoda, the group could oversee the entire city from here.
“What’s the matter?” Goblina the goblin was in an extraordinarily good mood, sipping a glass of red wine alongside Manling Victor. “We won! The Teikoku Empire is mine!”
“Yeah, and Your Majesty even got a crown out of it,” the Vizier pointed a finger at Vainqueur’s new [Crown of the Conqueror], a black circlet surrounded by rubies and metal horns. It was much more intimidating than the previous one, and more powerful; providing +6 to Charisma, Luck, and Skill, alongside immunity to [Terror].
Vainqueur found that part redundant, but complained about something else.
“Minion, we conquered this entire country in three days, and I did not level up!” The riches they earned and his monthly stipend soothed his wrath, but not by much. “The zmey leveled up!”
“Well, yes, he was very low level, so it made sense he would get a few out of it,” Manling Victor replied. “While we are both [Epic] level. This conquest was also a large effort, and Your Majesty and I only helped.”
“Helped? We burnt every fortress between the goblin and this silly manling capital!” Vainqueur had empowered Manling Victor’s summoned armies with his Perks, such as [Pontifex Maximus] and [Master of Silence], before unleashing air bombardments with the zmey. The manlings put up a valiant effort, but nothing that could rival a dragon.
“Your Majesty, not all soldiers in a conflict gain levels because their army won a short-lived war. Although I do ponder what it means when conquering a country becomes banal…”
“Vic, you’re, what, seventy?” the goblin asked.
“Sixty-nine.” The goblin looked up at the chief of staff with a strange look Vainqueur didn’t understand. “Don’t you dare.”
“With your level, you need legendary feats to level up,” the goblin replied. “Nothing short of world conquest will do.”
“I already own it by right of dragon calamity, but never pushed my claim,” Vainqueur said, considering it. “Minion—”
“I suggest we start with Prydain and then see if we need to go further,” Manling Victor replied hastily, bogged down by tiny administrative details. “We should focus on that first and foremost.”
Vainqueur grumbled, before seeing the wisdom in it. “Oh, yes, they are probably worth more in experience and loot,” the dragon reminded himself of what truly mattered. His bet with Icefang was still on, and he needed to accumulate a bigger hoard as soon as possible. Especially after Untasty Allison’s untimely death depleted his assets. “Where do we start?”
“The local fairies are called Yokai,” Manling Victor explained. “They’re distant cousins of the fomors, like Asian dragons to Your Majesty. If Odieuse is truly recruiting, she will probably start with them.”
Asian? What was that, some kind of food?
“Most of the surviving fairies make their lair in the mountain, at the island’s center.” Goblina pointed a finger outside the rookery, Vainqueur peeking. “Mount Yagami.”
Indeed, he had already noticed an enormous rock, almost as tall as the Albain Mountains, while rampaging through the countryside. Snow covered most of the summit, alongside cherry trees, while a strange, rainbowy-like light surrounded the summit. It reminded Vainqueur of a crown, one made of aurora.
The dragon was too good to ask why himself, so he glanced at his Vizier. “Why does it shine like that?” Manling Victor asked Goblina. By now, he could read his master’s mind without an exchange of words.
“Mount Yagami is the greatest powerstone deposit in the world; and houses multiple elemental strains at that. The stuff attracts monsters and fairies like a magnet, making the mountain exceptionally dangerous.”
“Powerstones,” Vainqueur repeated the word. “The unshiny stones Manling King Roland wanted for himself?”
“They’re stones infused with elemental magic,” Manling Victor explained his master. “The dwarves used it to power our moonlanding rocket.”
“A rocket?” The goblin jumped in place. “To the Moon? You never told me! HOW?!”
“Minion, you shall not mention that regrettable incident in front of foreign dignitaries!” Vainqueur interrupted before goblins got the idea to go there. “The planet Moon cannot sustain dragon life!”
“But I want to know! It is true you can fly by yourself on the Moon?”
“Goblin, you cannot imagine the horrors making their nest there,” Vainqueur replied, suddenly having terrible flashbacks of his experience. “There… it was there… everywhere… like a poison…”
The goblin looked up at the Vizier, who wisely refused to say anything. The empire’s honor was safe. “Anyway, that mountain was next on my conquest scheme,” Goblina said, disappointed by the lack of explanation on the moon landing. “The empire sent adventurers and soldiers to gather powerstones for their flying ships, but the local fauna prevented long-term, large-scale exploitation. Once the island’s fully pacified in a few months, I intend to clean it up of monsters for good.”
“We can't wait that long,” Manling Victor said.
“I agree, my bet with Icefang is due on Samhain,” Vainqueur said. “We shall destroy the fairies of this mountain, collect all their treasure, and then move on west.”
“If you want to clean it up for me, that’s great!” Goblina immediately jumped on the occasion. “Just say the word and I will supply you with all you need!”
“Excellent choice,” Vainqueur said, happy to be paid for something he would have done for free. “I want gems assorted to my [Psi-stone], to cover my scales with, a throne, and an army of carriers to lift me all the way to the summit. I am too important to walk, and I must preserve all my energy for the fairy hunt.”
“A mountain dungeon crawl should motivate Kia to help,” Manling Victor nodded.
“What about her?” Vainqueur asked, annoyed. “She did nothing to help with the conquest! She just sat and sulked!”
“I say you ditch her, Vic,” Goblina said. “Remember our Vizier curriculum? Trying to corrupt a [Paladin] fails more often than not. It’s not worth the risk.”
“Yes, you should breed with finer stock.” Vainqueur nodded fiercely.
“It is Your Majesty who tried to set us in the first place!” the Vizier pointed out, confused.
“That was before she corrupted my niece.” The dragon shuddered. “I will admit that she is a powerful minion, but she needs to correct her undragonly behavior.”
“I’m sure she will get around it,” Manling Victor said, too hopeful and innocent to give up on Knight Kia.
“Also, Vic, if you could save our wine cellar from her, that would be great.”
Vainqueur dismissed his chief of staff. “Minion, I give you two days of holiday, until I have eaten my fair share of cattle and rested. Now, goblin, about this throne…”
Since he had some time off, Victor decided to pay a visit to Kia first, before exploring the city. Knowing her, he aimed immediately for the palace’s bar.
As he walked through the corridors among guards and oni soldiers, Victor thought that while he preferred the old armor’s design, [Moloch’s Hide] felt more comfortable, warm and light. He blamed the strength increase it provided, alongside its fire-based abilities. From what he had understood, the armor was a gift from Happyland’s board of directors, shaped from the corpse of the archdemon Moloch and empowered by runes from all its corporate overlords.
Thinking about it made him want to apologize to Miel all the more.
He finally found his way to his destination, a hall-sized bar in the most exquisite Japanese style. Orange pillars held the roof over a large, mahogany counter, while red lanterns provided elegant lighting; a noble statue of Seng occupied the middle of the room—one much more flattering than the actual goddess. Soldiers from all species, humans, goblins, beastkin, and horned oni, gathered around tables or sofas having a good time.
And of course, Kia remained at the counter, looking grumpy with three bottles of various alcoholic beverages within arm’s reach. Victor immediately noticed something wrong.
The bottles weren’t empty, and she didn’t look drunk.
Okay, something terrible had happened. He immediately sat next to her. “Kia, are you alright?”
“Of course not,” she grumbled back while glaring at him.
Ah. “You’re still mad?”
“Why wouldn’t I?! I thought you were a good influence on Vainqueur, and then you convinced him to help that goblin!”
“But people love the new government! They call Vainqueur, Goblina, and I the Three Unifiers!”
“Because you shattered the country and then pieced it back together!”
“Kia, Goblina and I go seven years back,” Victor defended his choice. “Isn’t it the [Paladin] way to help a true friend in need?”
“Not when it involves them conquering a country!” she protested. “And by the way, are you on a first-name basis with all the world’s dictators?”
Probably, Victor thought but wisely kept it for himself. “You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he joked.
Her gaze became unbearable. “This is serious Vic. I’m starting to think that we may have… how to say it…” Kia cleared her throat, as a tentacled, beastkin barman provided her with a bottle of saké. “Irreconcilable karma differences.”
“Hey, I’m not evil, just a loyal friend!”
“You wear demonic armor and summon fiends in battle, what more do you need?” Kia took the bottle, sipped its content, and then spat it back. “And why does every drink here taste like saltwater?!”
“What do you mean?” Victor frowned, examining the four bottles. It looked like alcohol alright.
“Try it,” she said, giving him her saké. The Vizier grumbled, removing his helmet as the barman gave him a glass.
Ugh, he hated it the second it touched his tongue. Not his kind of drink.
“Tastes like saké to me,” Victor said after sampling it, Kia immediately handing him a beer bottle. He sipped and found this beverage strangely tasty. “It’s… it’s…"
It was great!
By the gods, this flavor… this perfect mixture of fruitlessness and sugar, of milk and honey. It was the taste of a lost carefree childhood, of his first kiss, of his happiest days, all distilled into one unique sensation.
It felt like drinking divinity itself!
“Hey barman, what is this?” Victor asked, immediately addicted to the stuff. Not getting drunk no longer sounded like a punishment.
“Onigumo Beer, Victor-sama,” the barman answered. “We milk giant spiders for their juice and then distill it with alcohol. I am pleased that you like it.”
“When I drink it, it tastes like saltwater,” Kia grumbled while looking at the other bottles, all of them local beverages. "All of them."
Could it be… “Barman, do you have foreign drinks?”
“Very few of them, Victor-sama. With the plague on the continent, the government closed the borders to avoid its spread. We can no longer import much.” Still, the tentacled barman looked under the counter for another bottle. “However, for you Victor-sama, our secret stash will always remain open.”
“Vic,” Kia spoke up grimly, her hand tight around her bottle.
Ah, here it was. The reason why she had to get drunk in the first place. “What’s going on?”
“He is in town, Vic. He is in town.”
Victor’s hold over his scythe tightened. “Mag Mell?”
Kia turned to face him, her eyes looking into his own like twin abysses capturing all light in the world. The eyes of a shell-shocked veteran of countless harassment attempts, door proselytism, and random stupidities.
Victor remained shell-shocked for several seconds, as his mind struggled to process the cursed word.
Orknoob. Orknoob in fantasy Japan.
“Oh, gods.” Oh, gods, it made so much sense. “He is here? In the bar? Is he behind me?”
“I heard the guards talking. He is on a ‘holy pilgrimage,’ spreading his ideas to ‘waifus and husbandos’ to the capital.”
“Oh, gods… oh, gods, this may be our only chance to get him.” He had lost count of the number of times the Esoteric Order of Isekai harassed him or got on his nerves. “It has to stop, Kia. It has to stop. Someone has to make it stop!”
“Are we up for the task?” the [Paladin] asked, unsure of herself. “I can’t fathom the number of people who want that nuisance gone… and he’s still alive.”
Victor grimly pondered the problem. “We may need to bring Vainqueur,” he admitted. “Burn it from above. Don’t give him a chance to escape. Where is he?”
“The Waifu District.”
“The Waifu… the red-light district?”
“That’s why I hate Japan.”
The barman finally found what he was looking for, a foreign red wine bottle. Victor asked for two glasses, one for him, and the other for the [Paladin].
“Saltwater,” Kia said, while Victor found the taste exquisite. She turned to the barman with an angry scowl. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“Of course not, sinful apostate.”
“Then could you please bring me another—” Kia demanded, before stopping mid-sentence. “Wait, what did you say?”
“Of course not, scumlike unbeliever.”
The Paladin instantly unsheathed her sword, the guards turning at her while ready to intervene. “You poisoned my drinks!”
“Of course not, godless trash. This is divine punishment from the goddess.”
|Intelligence check successful.|
How could he tell Kia without breaking her sanity?
“Vic, what’s going on?” the [Paladin] asked, immediately noticing his unease. “W-what’s happening?”
“Kia,” Victor cleared his throat. “Promise me that you will remain calm.”
“Why are you looking at me as if I got cancer?”
“There is no need to be kind to scum like her, honorable Victor-sama.” The Vizier found it amazing how that barman could mix respectful politeness and passive-aggressiveness in a single sentence.
“What is happening to me?” The Paladin asked, losing her cool. “What’s happening?! I demand to know!”
Victor rehearsed his next words in his mind, trying to find a way to deliver the news softly and painlessly. “You remember the mermaid, at the whiskey sea?”
“The one pretending to be Seng?”
“Yeah, she… she wasn’t pretending, and she didn’t take it well.”
And then Kia understood.
It was astonishing to somehow see her black, tanned skin turn white in an instant; her strong eyes betraying an expression of abject terror, as she glanced at the bottles with a look of pure, absolute despair.
And then the barman delivered the coup de grace.
“Yes apostate, for denying the goddess Seng’s divinity, all alcoholic drinks, from the poorest grog to the reddest wine, shall taste like saltwater to you!” the barman declared loudly. “No longer will you get drunk! The pleasures of taverns are forever barred to you!”
That day, Victor learned that in the world, there were sentences that could utterly destroy someone. Words carefully tailored to tear even the strong-willed to pieces.
At that very moment, something broke inside of Kia and never came back. Victor hugged her, and let her cry on his shoulder for five hours straight.
For she would remain sober, in a world where Orknoob yet lived.