What a wonderful looking place.
Vainqueur glanced at the enormous, steamy bath in front of him, bordered by natural stone walls and wooden pipes. The pagoda-like inn that oversaw the area overshadowed it from a hill above, blocking out half of the sun.
"You could fit an army inside!" His chief of staff observed, wearing only a toga fitting his wings and tail as he walked on the stone pathway. "It's as large as a lake!"
“Minion, what do they call it again?” the dragon asked, touching the water with his claw and finding it to be just the right temperature. The locals had wisely left the place, offering it for dragon use alone.
“Onsen, Your Majesty."
“Could they not call it a bath?” Vainqueur said as he slipped inside the hot, steamy waters, letting out a moan of pleasure. He couldn’t put his finger on why, but it felt like lava. His mighty body caused the water level to rise up, swallowing stones and bonsai. “Perfect.”
You have entered the [Onsen] Field.
Your status ailments will be cured, and you will recover HP and SP at an accelerated pace.
After saving the world from hunger with his new Tarasque feeding plan, Vainqueur had decided to take a short break on his trip across Outremonde. Since they had around forty days left before Samhain, he thought he could afford some pleasure time.
“Minion, what are you waiting for?” Vainqueur asked, as his Manling didn’t join him in the bath. “It is not lava by any means, but it should do.”
“Later, Your Majesty,” the minion said, ever dutiful. “I still have stuff to do before I can relax; reforge my Perks, extract information from Mag Mell’s soul, check up on Kia…”
“What has that poor excuse of a [Paladin] done this time?”
“She’s having withdrawal symptoms. Allison had to lock her in her bedroom to avoid a scene.”
Vainqueur sighed. After having opened a new portal between Murmurin and this country's capital, his chief of staff had summoned key minions to handle administrative matters. “That was inevitable. Spending weeks in my naked presence has made her addicted to me. It happens to my minions all the time.”
His chief of staff said nothing; he alone had the strength of will to resist his Vainqueur addiction, and even then never for long. “Your Majesty, I still think we should use this break to train a little. With Mag Mell’s soul on hands, I have been able to locate the fomors’ exp farm, and in all likelihood, we will face heavy opposition there.”
“Minion, I am considering why we should even make a stop there.”
“But that’s the place where they level up!” his minion protested.
“And instead of growing as it should have, my wealth has been slowly depleted!” Vainqueur said, vowing to remind Indebted Allison of how much she cost him. The money they received from conquering the country had barely returned his hoard to its pre-Akhenapep size. “Hunting fairies is good, but it makes us lose sight of this trip’s true goal: gathering enough money to shame Icefang on Samhain! The few time we fought fomors, they did not drop any gold at all!”
“I’m sure the locals will pay a heavy price to get rid of them—”
“If they do, yes, I shall deign to burn that farm to the ground,” Vainqueur interrupted. “But I want you to focus on money-making quests first. Like my dodo trade plan.”
“I admit selling homegrown male dodos to exp-starved nations while maintaining a monopoly on the females should prove lucrative,” Manling Victor said as if it wasn’t obvious. “But it will take months to breed a sufficient population; same as with opening our portal network to foreign trade and global tourism. Samhain will pass by in either case.”
“Friend Victor, you do not see that we can leverage one of the most powerful forces in the world,” Vainqueur said. “Dwarf addiction.”
His chief of staff raised an eyebrow. “Dwarf addiction?”
“We have access to a Whiskey Sea, which from what I understand your species use as a substitute to dwarf consumption,” Vainqueur said. “I will have minions pump it dry, then sell bottles to your kindred. The Agarthans will be so glad that we spared them from dwarf addicts depredations, that they will pay me a greater tribute.”
“That’s… that’s actually very smart,” Manling Victor said, considering the matter. “We could quickly pump the whiskey sea and sell cheap drinks to Gardemagne and Barin.”
“I order you not to overdwarf on our own product though. One time was one too many. ”
“That’s still going to take time to set up,” his Vizier said, always a pessimist. “And I doubt we can sell enough bottles to grow Your Majesty’s hoard in forty days.”
“What about conquering a new country?” Vainqueur suggested. “It worked wonders for me so far.”
“There is a southern landmass which has yet to be settled at all, and which should be rich in natural resources, in particular gold…” Vainqueur’s head raised above the waters with interest, making the minion cough. “But it’s Hell on Earth in my homeworld. I cannot imagine how bad it must be in Outremonde.”
“I shall conquer Prydain in due time,” Vainqueur said, unafraid. “I welcome the practice run. For the greater hoard, no sacrifice is too low.”
“Alternatively, we could go to Nagastan or the Jade Empire,” Manling Victor said. “They’re the richest countries in the world, and Nagastan, in particular, pays well for quests. As a Claimed of Shesha, I could get us deals there.”
“Yes, yes, I trust you to map out our destinations,” Vainqueur replied dismissively. “But I will accept no less than a million coins per task. I am a star, minion, and you know it. We must increase our wealth standards.”
Manling Victor excused himself to prepare the trip, leaving Vainqueur alone. The dragon quickly rested against the stones like a crocodile on a riverbank; the experience couldn’t match resting on his hoard, but it helped ease the pain from his wounds. The Tarasque’s minion conversion had left bruises.
The dragon closed his eyes and enjoyed the warmth, his mind slipping into thoughts about the future. While he had sacrificed short-term wealth to revive his minions, such was the duty of an Emperor to reward those who died for him.
The dragon suddenly wondered what would happen to his empire once he reached godhood. While the place only served to fuel his hoard first and foremost, he had grown to enjoy ruling it. Could he keep doing so after passing the Valhalla trials?
He was three-quarters of the way through after all.
Vainqueur’s eyes snapped open, as he recognized the voice.
A dragon’s voice.
“I warned you, you should have leveled up in [Paladin] of Mithras instead of [Pyromancer],” someone else commented. “You would have gotten a [Fire] immunity Perk by now, instead of a mere Resistance.”
“And Skill is one of your dump stats,” a third, female creature said. “[Paladin] would have boosted your Strength and Charisma.”
Vainqueur immediately pinpointed the source of the noise as behind the nearest stone wall. He immediately looked above and at the large bath beyond it.
Three smaller dragons occupied a steamy lake there, one black, one green, and the last one...
“ICEFANG!” Vainqueur roared, bringing the three dragons’ attention upon him.
“VAINQUEUR!” his white-scaled rival roared back, extending his wings in defiance and throwing water all around.
“Oh, Vainqueur!” the green dragon waved a hand at the Emperor. Vainqueur identified him as Magnifique, one of the guests at his latest Bragging Day and an adventurer he met while hunting the Blue Rose Legion. “Great to see you.”
“What are you doing here?” Vainqueur glared at Icefang. “You have come to sabotage me again?”
“I am a [Ninja]!” Icefang hissed in response. “I train in this city!”
“Suboptimally,” said the third member of the dragon trio, a black wyrm with two long horns. Suffisante, Vainqueur remembered, her name is Suffisante. “Why he chose a puny class with such a high Skill threshold I will never understand.”
“This ‘puny class’ allowed me to dominate Vainqueur in our last spare!” Icefang lied through his teeth.
“That is not how I remember it!” Vainqueur replied angrily, now mostly out of the water with his two hands on the wall. To think that his rival would ruin his vacation by showing up unannounced! “My minion had to beg me to spare your life!”
“You will be the one begging on Samhain when my hoard humiliates yours whole in its shininess!” Icefang showed his fangs. “How is yours, by the way? Smaller than a hill I imagine!”
“Bigger than a mountain!” Vainqueur lied, refusing to lose face.
“Boys, can you tone it down?” Suffisante asked, as the noise caused birds to fly away. “You’re making the minions flee!”
“What are you doing with this silver-lover?” Vainqueur glared at her and Magnifique.
“We joined his guild a while ago,” Magnifique said. “The Silver Dragon Adventurer Company.”
“We cooperate for quests and share the loot.” Suffisante nodded. “Money without risks!”
“And no minion kickbacks!”
“I thought you had better tastes,” Vainqueur grumbled. How could any dragon worth their weight in gold join this second-rate Frost Dragon?
“Speak for yourself, you lost the Goldslayer,” Icefang taunted his rival. “How much gold did he pay you for it? Or maybe… or maybe did he pay you in lead?”
The Emperor’s eyes saw red. “You take that back!”
“Come on, we are dragons, we are better than this,” Magnifique said, cheerful. “You can fight on Samhain.”
“Indeed, my net worth will speak for itself,” Vainqueur replied haughtily, refusing to sink to Icefang’s level of pettiness. “The hoard that made even Furibon repent from his evil ways.”
“Mmm,” Icefang replied dismissively, smirking arrogantly. “Haven’t you heard, Knightsbane? I have become the richest dragon in the world! And I would have become even richer were it not for that goblin…”
“The previous Daimyo hired us to save his empire from some goblin warlord, but when we arrived, he had already been eaten and replaced,” Suffisante explained the situation to Vainqueur. “We complained to the new goblin minion administration, who reimbursed our travel costs and offered us free vacations as apologies.”
“Ah!” Vainqueur mocked Icefang, rejoicing at having taken a quest right under his nose.
“I swear, when I find my [Heroic Crest], I will make you choke on your arrogance,” the frost dragon hissed.
“A [Heroic Crest] like the one I received from Wotan Dragonbane?” Vainqueur raised his head with pride, as the other dragons looked at him as if he had grown more heads than a Zmey.
“You defeated Dragonbane?” Magnifique had stars in his eyes.
“You can get a [Heroic Crest] from defeating a fomor?” Suffisante asked, only interested in growing stronger.
“Even if you had the Perks needed to see them, the sight of my,” Vainqueur took a deep breath, “seventy-five levels would have left you blind!”
“Lies!” Icefang complained.
“Let me check…” Suffisante’s eyes widened. “[Augustus] thirty, [Witchfinder General] fourteen, [Kaiser] seventeen, [Dungeon Breeder] ten, and [Geomancer] four! Seventy-five!”
Vainqueur pumped up his chest, happy to receive the spotlight he deserved.
“What kind of subpar build is that?” Suffisante said, half-amazed, half-mockingly.
“Yes, Vainqueur, how do you get anything down?” Magnifique replied, astonished.
The Emperor frowned, astonished by the reaction. “Excuse you?”
“I know you are a pioneer in the dragon System, but your classes are all over the place!” Suffisante said. “You do not even try to optimize!”
“Why should I optimize perfection?” Vainqueur pointed out the obvious. “Your argument is illogical.”
“Dragon perfection can always be built upon,” Suffisante replied.
“I still think it is better to cover our natural weaknesses than increase our strength,” Icefang argued, seemingly almost as annoyed by the other dragon’s arrogance as Vainqueur himself. “I solved my Skill weakness and [Fire] vulnerability! Soon, I will become immune even to [Fairy]!”
“You can become immune to fairies?” Vainqueur asked, his contempt for his rival overcome by curiosity. After all, fairies and dragons had warred for so long that they had become vulnerable to one another; if Wotan Dragonbane could overcome this problem, so could Vainqueur.
“I have, by becoming a [Priest],” Magnifique boasted. “One of the manling gods provides [Fairy] resistance at level seventeen, which can be increased to immunity with the right magical item!”
“A [Priest]?” Vainqueur was aghast. “You became the minion of a manling?”
“Far from that. I made the goddess Leone my minion, and now she gives me beautiful spells whenever I order her too!” The green dragon proudly showed a small pendant around his neck, representing a shield and a pen joined together. “Alongside [Fairy] resistance, as the goddess of might, she can provide a Strength bonus equal to my [Priest] level, on top of magical buffs!”
“We calculated that he could deal thousands of damage with swords if he gains Perfect Proficiency in them,” Suffisante added, losing Vainqueur’s interest with her technicalities. “Hence why he took levels in [Paladin] too!”
“I have to follow a code of minion deontology, help manlings solve their problems, but this is just a technicality,” Magnifique said dismissively. “I hope that they solve this design flaw soon.”
“I agree, why should dragon class features require that you help lesser beings?” Suffisante shook her head. “At least you have it easy. I have to garden and tend to forests to keep my [Vestal] of Cybele perks active.”
“Stop complaining, you have S in HP growth and you can use it as your main stat for spellcasting instead of that useless Intelligence… or Skill!”
“Skill is not useless!” Icefang snarled. “You have seen the [Jutsu] I can use with it!”
“Yes, yes, we know, you always land critical hits,” Suffisante replied dismissively. “But once I get Crested, I will be the one capable of turning the raw forces of nature into my minions!”
“I wonder if [Witch] wouldn’t be better as your new class after getting past level thirty,” Magnifique pondered. “[Chronomancer] is very powerful, but difficult to level-up in and runs on Intelligence, while [Witch] uses Charisma and meshes better with [Vestal].”
“She should get [Bard] to buff herself up!” Icefang said. “Like a [Ninja]!”
“I still do not understand why these deities refuse to claim us,” Magnifique whined. “Imagine the stats we could have if we were claimed by all twelve. Yet not one of them accepted!”
Vainqueur watched the trio argue about numbers, stats, and values, clearly having lost sight of what truly mattered.
“My fellow wyrms,” he spoke up, “have you forgotten that all classes are good, so long as you are an invincible dragon?”
“Yes, obviously,” Magnifique admitted, “But some classes are classier than others.”
“Your [Dungeon Breeder] has zero fighting applications,” Suffisante added.
“Because you lack imagination!” Vainqueur defended his hard-won levels. “I tamed the strongest minion in the world, and soon I shall breed an army of them!”
“I can easily [Enthrall] any animal with the right [Prayer], and I can create powerful minions from seeds,” Suffisante said. “Seeds!”
“They are not as powerful as an [Fisherman]’s minions though,” Magnifique added.
“That Perk, no matter how powerful, does not make up for the nineteen useless levels that come before it.”
“Are they always like this?” Vainqueur asked Icefang as they continued arguing, his rival seeming to share his frustration.
“Sadly,” the frost dragon replied. “I fear that once they get past level thirty, they will become unbearable.”
“You can still arrange things a little, Vainqueur,” Suffisante said, after realizing that the bigger dragon had lost interest in the conversation. “While it is true that you can never achieve our power once we reach your level—”
“If you reach my level,” Vainqueur pointed out. Considering their lack of dragon common sense, he did not believe it likely.
“But if you take levels in [Crusader] now—”
“Classes and Perks matter, but not as much as how they are used, and by whom,” Vainqueur replied. “Look at me. I am me. Why should I gain new classes when those I have already allowed me to prevail time and time again?”
Magnifique and Suffisante exchanged a glance. “I do not get it,” said the former. “Do you mean that you can gain powerful personal Perks when using suboptimal classes?”
Vainqueur shook his head, annoyed at his dragon brethren. Couldn’t they understand that the only classes that mattered, were those making them richer and more glamorous? Who cared who had the highest statistical score, when they already had the perfect measure of one’s worth in a hoard?
Such were the woes of a visionary. His impact on dragon society had unforeseen side-effects.
“Anyway, my wealth will prove that my path is the best,” Vainqueur declared proudly, preparing to return to his bath.
“Leaving so soon, Vainqueur?” Icefang hissed. “Have we touched a nerve? Are you afraid that your class combination pales before mine?”
“Even the best classes in the world cannot turn silver to gold,” Vainqueur taunted him.
“But the worst of them can turn gold to lead!”
The red dragon turned around, glaring at his rival. “Careful. You sound suicidal.”
“You could not best me in combat, and I am sure you could not best the Goldslayer either!” Icefang persisted in his madness. “Even with fewer levels, I am better optimized. I can take you anytime.”
“Hey, stop!” Magnifique interrupted both before they could come to blows. “There are more civilized ways to settle your feud! Like a minion battle!”
“That will not do,” Icefang replied, lightning cackling between his eyes and that of his nemesis.
“What about a quest then?” Suffisante said. “We pick a quest, and we see who can solve it the fastest!”
Vainqueur considered the proposal, an idea coming to mind. “If you insist,” he said. “There is this fairy farm I have been meaning to burn…”