“Far away, in the depths of Castle Gardemagne,” the dragon said, as a beautiful keep with shining white halls appeared on the reflective surface, “lives a deadly predator; the remnant of a bygone age where manling kings numbered in the thousand, fighting both themselves and the wild.
His trusty [Scrying Crystal Ball] zoomed in on the castle, onto a bedroom located at a tower’s top.
“An insidious, cunning beast, whose beauty is only matched by its cruelty. The most dangerous game of all.”
A fair, human maiden with long green hair peeked out the window, looking down with envy at the castle’s gardens. Her beautiful skin turned red with envy, as she noticed a blonde, busty woman talk with a dashing prince near a patch of flowers; her eyes were set on the competitor's pendant and jewels.
“The Manling Princess.”
The maiden left with a hiss, to protect her territory against the intruder. As the apex predator of decadent manling courts, this savage conflict could only end in two ways.
She would kill, or be killed.
“Princesses are smart,” the dragon said, leaving his den and crystal ball behind, his princess bag in hand. “They need to, to become queens. They kill for many reasons: to mate, for status, for pleasure. But out of all the beasts populating the animal kingdom, only the Manling Princess will kill for money; for humans are born greedy. That makes her the most dangerous princess of all; the dragonliest princess.”
The dragon flew over the ruins of the city, and the pens outside its confines. His apprentice’s minions had built large, district-wide walled areas, one for each feral princess. The wyrm had taken exquisite care in their development, recreating the natural environment of each princess within; an arid sandcastle for the Elf Princess, a small plain for Centaur Princess, a fungi garden for Mushroom Princess...
“I am Grandrake, and I have been a Princess Hunter all my life; long before the dragon-made system recognized it officially.” The wyrm looked down on Mushroom Princess’ pen, watching her have tea with Allison the Dryad. She was the closest to being released back to the wild. “Princesses and dragons are not meant to coexist for long. But most of the princesses here, at my new Wildlife Reserve in El Goldorado, had to be removed from the wild. They turned feral, dangerous to each other… and to themselves.”
All because of this forgetful curse’s fault!
Grandrake had felt great guilt at having left these poor princesses to fend for themselves; he would not rest until they could regain their true nobility. Thanks to a dwarf-made portal, the dragon empire of V&V had allocated resources and staff to the project, making the wildlife reserve fully functional. Kobolds watched from above the walls, careful that the princesses didn’t escape, nor that outsiders disturbed the experiment.
Grandrake approached Elf Princess’ pen, finding her lording over a group of succubi from the ruins of her sandcastle. When the dragon landed near her den, the posse instantly turned tense. He opened the bag and grabbed a cake.
“Elf Princesses are very territorial; when interacting with them, you must play by their rules.” Grandrake left the royal strawberry cake at the periphery of the princess’ vision, showing deference. “When you feed them, you must do it subtly, presenting it as a gift; or else they may refuse your food out of pride. Some are even ready to starve themselves to death; for no cost is too high, to psychologically dominate the dragon.”
“Is he talking to himself?” a succubus said, rich enough for Grandrake to hear her. She must have been upper middle-class, maybe an office worker.
“Always,” Elf Princess said with an unhappy face.
“Having fed on princess flesh for decades, she must get used to her natural diet,” Grandrake said. “Chocolate, truffles, brioche, oysters… do not ever give these beautiful creatures bread though. If a Princess is fed commoner food, then in time, she becomes half a peasant herself. Let them eat cake.”
The dragon discreetly left the pen, watching from above until the princess accepted the gift. Happy, Grandrake left to continue his feeding tour, checking out how all of the captives handled their newfound courts. No fair maiden shared their pen with another.
“Princesses are pack animals, but they cannot stand each others’ company for long except in extreme circumstances,” Grandrake explained. “For when they do, jealousy sets in, and they fight to become queens. Instead, their natural pack is a girl posse; a Princess dominates lesser female nobles as the alpha and then bullies commoners. During the mating season, males flock to them, fighting for the princess’ favor; sometimes, even dueling to the death.”
But it was too early to introduce fair maidens to male partners yet. After years of princess cannibalism, these maidens had lost their kind’s normal social behavior. They had forgotten the habits needed to thrive in the wider world.
Due to a lack of elves, the empire had instead sent what could pass for noble ladies: female vampires and succubi. The dragon had introduced groups of them to the captive princesses, so they could form posses.
“It is not an optimal solution, but the only one we have for now. It will take years before we can return most of these princesses to the wild.” Grandrake shook his head sorrowfully, as he watched Centaur Princess run around her pen in frustration. “Princesses aren’t meant to be herded. To flourish, princessness needs to be atop a social hierarchy; if a dragon looms over it, it cannot express itself. These flowers need light to bloom.”
However, with the number of princesses decreasing, many dragons had tried to preserve the species however they could. Some even tried to raise them in captivity, but desperate measures can never result in anything beautiful.
“Once, princesses were common across the land, but my kind overhunted them for their princessness. So princesses adapted, rearing a male subspecies called knights to defend themselves; the rarity and danger only made them more desirable.”
The rediscovery of the dragon-made system, though, could change everything. Grandrake had heard that Blightswamp had managed to turn her daughters into princesses; if true, then it could be the greatest breakthrough in Princessology since the invention of the [Virgin Princess Radar].
After touring the pen, Grandrake flew to the dense jungle.
“My assistants informed me that a knight was sighted nearby,” he said, looking at the trees for any sign of movement. “Knights are dangerous, both to princesses and to Princess Hunters themselves. I like to think that my lessons about how to treat their metal sword bites saved many young, inexperienced dragons from death. Yes, I am an explorer and collector first, but education will always be important to me.”
For the elder dragon wasn’t stupid. He knew that he lived a dangerous lifestyle and that one day, a fomor knight might get lucky and end his life; his near-death experience from the Curse of Greed had taught him well. His mind might get duller, his body slower from wounds garnered in dangerous hunts. He could not let his knowledge die with him.
“If a knight captures a princess, it will attempt to breed with her by guile or force. If the knight is a prince or a noble, then the result of coupling will be a trueborn princess.” Grandrake shook his head. “But this one is another kind entirely; an invasive species.”
“If allowed to mate, the commoner will pass on inferior bastard genes onto the progeny,” Grandrake explained the danger. “Which disrupts the entire princess social hierarchy. It often takes generations for a princess lineage to recover from bastardry, and with their current, dwindling population, this cannot be allowed.”
Grandrake looked at the horizon with sorrowful eyes, at the distant bright sun.
“Dwarf princesses have become extinct because we…” He stopped. “Because I wasn’t vigilant enough.”
He couldn't allow elf and manling princesses to vanish too.
“An operation like this needs teamwork.” The dragon reached a clearing, where an armored red dragon and her scaled minions had gathered. “This is where my new apprentice Jolie comes in, alongside our Kobold Ranger assistants.”
“Your Majesty, who are you talking to?” Red Ranger asked. Since he was a true minion, Grandrake managed to hear his words, even though he lacked the net worth needed to break past the wealth sound barrier.
“To myself. I simply love the sound of my own voice, it makes for exquisite conversation.”
“So wyrmlike,” young Jolie said in adoration.
“It will come with age,” Grandrake told his apprentice. “Practice every day. Even when others ignore you, you must keep going. A true discussion is never about them; it is all about you.”
The younger wyrm nodded ferociously, flying after the older dragon as they patrolled the jungle, both humming the air. The kobold rangers formed a circle, to force the knight into action.
The creature was cunning, scouting the pens from afar and then retreating in the wilderness. In time, he may slip inside a princess’ lair and then lay his eggs where he shouldn’t.
Grandrake couldn’t leave this operation to chance, so he had hired a specialist. The lycan known as Chocolatine scoured the forest in wolf form, sniffing the ground. While no refined werewolf princess, this professional minion could smell prey from miles away.
It didn’t take her long to locate the intruder. “Over there!” she shouted, Grandrake noticing movement in the thick, high grass.
There! Under the shadow of a tree!
A manling knight, with steel armor painted green! The perfect disguise in this thick, dangerous forest.
The knight’s mouth moved in silence, threatening the dragon with his tiny weapon, an icy halberd. Clearly this one had come prepared, ready to fight a dragon by exploiting their common weakness to frost.
Yet, he had made an error, mistaking the Princess Hunter for a fire dragon, instead of a lightning wyrm.
“I cannot understand his barking,” Grandrake noted. “Which means that he must live in a barn. This one looks young, inexperienced, but I cannot take any risks. I must shoot it with my breath quickly and decisively. Thankfully, a lightning dragon like myself is a knight’s natural predator.”
The ancient wyrm opened his mouth, crackling electricity building up in his stomach. Grandrake opened his mouth, unleashing a mighty blue bolt at the creature. Covered in steel as he was, the knight became a living lightning rod; he was fried on the spot and collapsed.
“Then, I crush the body under my claw,” Grandrake explained, landing on the animal. “You see, while noble knights are eager to kill themselves, commoners have a strong survival instinct. They play dead. As a Princess Hunter, I must eat them whenever I can, poor taste be damned.”
Which the dragon did.
“When I was young, a commoner knight tricked me this way, impregnating my freshly caught Werewolf Princess with a bastard litter.” So said Grandrake, as he swallowed the knight whole, sword first. “I only learned the truth after finding his half-eaten bones in a hole, the pelvis missing.”
“Teacher, teacher!” Jolie called, as she landed next to him. “Who is the most beautiful princess of all? Should a dragon limit themselves to certain species?”
“In the eyes of a true hunter, all princesses are beautiful, Young Jolie,” Grandrake taught her. “A true dragon does not discriminate!”
Jolie listened religiously. Grandrake knew that he had found a worthy apprentice; eager to learn, confident enough to ask, to question.
“Our task is not yet done, Young Jolie,” the older dragon declared, examining the spot where the manling intruder hid. “For knights always travel in groups of two. The master and the squire.”
Which of them did they hunt? The master… or the squire?
“It must be the squire,” said Young Jolie. “I know because I am one too! I always charged first while Kia lagged behind!”
“A dragon can become a squire?” Grandrake asked, astonished.
“Yes, thanks to the System!” Jolie said proudly. “And one day I will become a true knight too!”
This… this challenged many of his beliefs. But a true Princess Hunter had to be willing to learn. He had to assume that the master was out there, waiting for his moment.
“Young Jolie’s insight gives me hope. That a new generation of dragons will rise, empowered by this System, and more mindful of the environment than their elders. The heroes that could save princesses from extinction.” Grandrake looked at the horizon as if he could glimpse the trials to come. “Only time will tell.”
How long would they have to keep these princesses captive? To shield them against armored poachers?
Could he even release some of them? Mushroom nobles were long gone, and elves extremely rare. For some princesses, finding purebred partners to continue their lineage would be difficult; sometimes, near-impossible.
Young Vainqueur had suggested breeding them with his chief of staff, arguing about the quality of his genes, but Grandrake was skeptical. While he might count as a noble prince of the V&V Empire, the child wouldn’t be purebred; and he worried about long-term inbreeding. Still, he couldn’t let these proud creatures become extinct.
There was no easy solution to this problem.
“The life of a Princess Hunter is full of hard choices, and tough compromises,” Grandrake said, knowing that today’s monologue would soon come to an end. “As dragons explore the world in search of levels, we must learn to give these fair maidens their space. Only then, will we be able to coexist in peace.”
For a true Princess Hunter’s job was never fully done.