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It had to happen one day.

Vainqueur had pushed his minion to breed, something which he had proven surprisingly terrible at. No matter the setbacks, his chief of staff had persevered, trying to do his duty and satisfy his master.

And he had overbred.

“Minion!” Vainqueur barked. “Minion!”

His chief of staff didn’t respond, laying on the drenched inn’s courtyard with his armor on. The warm, steely plates looked as if they had been hit by King Wotan’s lightning, and his manling inside was half-dead. Even his tail had gone limp!

They had found him like this, among the wreckage of his bedroom. And he hadn’t woken up hours later.

“I told him not to do it,” Goblina lamented with a sorrowful look, while Chocolatine held the unconscious chief of staff in her arms. Vainqueur’s minions had gathered in a circle around Manling Victor, alongside a few faces the dragon didn’t recognize; all the magic-users present kept casting spells on the Vizier, to no avail. “I warned him! I warned him!”

“It seems the shock was too much.” Corpseling Jules shook his head. “It is a miracle he didn't die on the spot. If he hadn’t reached for his potions before falling unconscious, he would have left us...”

“You, healers.” Vainqueur turned to Untasty Allison. “Wake him up!”

“We’re trying, Your Majesty!” the dryad said, Knight Kia casting [Full Heal] on the dragon’s friend. “His body functions are normal, but his soul…”

“His soul almost reached enlightenment,” some redheaded manling explained. “He has experienced a bliss so great, that his soul is afraid to return to its mortal coil and find everything else disappointing. Until Victor realizes that this universe still has pleasures to offer than what he saw, he will not wake up.”

“What greater pleasure could there be than serving me?” Vainqueur replied, looking down on his chief of staff. “Minion! Minion! I have a challenge to win! MINION!”

His friend’s body didn’t even twitch.

“I should not have pushed him,” Vainqueur realized, his heart full of regret. “If his boundless love for me is not enough to wake him up…”

“He is still alive,” the redhead said and shrugged. “So he is still bound to this world. Just give him time to recover from his divine vision.”

“How long will it take?” Allison asked the redhead.

“It depends. It took me a full week of mind fantasies to work myself back to the waking world.”

“A week?” Vainqueur frowned. “My fairy hunt challenge is due to begin in a few days! I cannot wait for a week!”

“Fairy hunt?” Kia asked, looking up at the dragon with raw desire.

“Will there be princesses?” Gorynych asked, salivating.

“You are not invited!” Vainqueur lambasted both of them, before turning to his other minions. “No matter. I will carry him in my hand.”

“No, Your Majesty, don’t!” Allison pleaded. “He is completely helpless in this state, and he needs medical attention.”

“There is no place safer than my side,” Vainqueur insisted. “You can heal him on the way to the fairy farm.”

“Your Majesty intends to attack it while carrying Victor in their palm?” Knight Kia asked. “It’s too dangerous to take him there. A random spell and he would die for good.”

The dragon grumbled but considered her words. His minion may indeed be too vulnerable, and the dragon lacked the funds to raise him again for now… “Dragonly goblin.”

“Yes,” Goblina asked, her face the very picture of worry.

“As befitting of our alliance, I shall leave my chief of staff in your lands, until my minions nurse him back to health and I can summon him back to my side,” Vainqueur said. “If anything happens to him while I am away, I will burn this island to cinders. Am I clear?”

The goblin reeled a bit at the threat but nodded. “I have the best minions in the world,” she said. “A week? We will have him woken up in three days flat! But what about the Tarasque?”

"Obviously, you feed him while I am absent. Minions, I expect you to prove yourself better than her servants,” Vainqueur told his own lackeys. A little minion competition could only increase their productivity. “I must leave and put Icefang in his place by burning the fairy farm first.”

“I’m coming with you then,” Knight Kia said.

Vainqueur looked at the uppity manling. She must have had a square root nine intelligence score not to understand that he didn’t want her around. “No.”

“Can you take me, please?” the [Paladin] all but begged him, joining her hands. “Please, I need action!”

“How much then?”

Knight Kia froze. “How much what?”

“How much will you pay me for the privilege?”

Since he knew Grandrake couldn’t hear her, the dragon took the knight’s silence for an admission of poverty. When she mustered the courage to speak up, it was to haggle. “You want me to pay you for working?”

“I do not want, I require to be paid to overlook your uselessness,” Vainqueur explained in terms that she would understand. “Being on an exclusive adventure with the best dragon in the world is an honor, of which you are unworthy. Without proper tribute, I cannot look the other way.”

Now that he thought of it, he could make an income out of it.

“That’s—” Knight Kia stopped herself from trying to overstep her minion station, and instead let out a long sigh. “You will need someone to talk with the locals. I can fill in for Vic.”

“As you filled in as my niece’s minion?” Vainqueur replied with contempt. “And I assure you that the locals will beg for the privilege of granting me guidance.”

“They won’t if they can’t understand you,” the [Paladin] replied. “Victor wrote down the farm’s location near Nagastan, and they don’t speak common or dragon there.”

Vainqueur opened his mouth to mock her further. “Ah, I will have a minion cast a translation spell on me before I leave! Your logic is flawed!”

“The spell will wear off by the time you reach the country. While I can cast it at will.”

Vainqueur was about to deny her anyway until he realized that without [Master’s Shield], he would have no way to heal himself in a pinch. The [Paladin] may be a subpar minion, she could help him recover from wounds…

“Fine,” Vainqueur said. “But you shall ride the zmey. My hand is too good for you.”

He could already imagine the moment when his chief of staff would sweep that inbred dragon right from under the knight’s nose...


Leaving the island of Teikoku behind, Vainqueur flew in a straight line towards his destination, flying across the sea and then reaching the massive mainland. Knight Kia told him that they would cross the Jade Empire first, the name stimulating a memory. Something about a dragon helping the local manlings “cultivate.”

Vainqueur would have loved to boast back and forth with this mighty kindred, but he was short on time. Icefang and his party had already left, and he needed to meet them at the farm not to default on the challenge.

The wyrm flew over the mainland for a full day, through the night and onto the next sundown while Gorynych struggled to follow. They crossed verdant forests, rice fields, and mountains; yet the manling cities they passed through seemed mostly deserted.

Their journey led them to dry lands between the ocean and an enormous chain of mountains which made the Albain Mountains look like hills. Vainqueur smelled the scent of scaled beastkin, from serpentine nagas to lizardmen, on the ground.

The dragon decided to stop at a large city on the way, a hive of round terracotta houses near a local forest. Unlike the manling stone and wooden hives to which Vainqueur had grown accustomed to, this place had been built mostly with red clay and bricks. Architects had focused on columns, pillars, and rounded roofs, while the dragon noticed the presence of tigers and elephants in vast pens nearby.

Like all the other cities they had flown over, this one seemed deserted; yet Vainqueur’s sharp senses noticed people inside the houses, too shy to face him.

“We arrived sooner than I thought!” Vainqueur rejoiced, as he landed in the empty plaza. “We may have time for a quick quest.”

“A quick quest?” Kia asked, leaping off Gorynych’s back as the zmey collapsed in exhaustion.

“Gorynych is thirsty…” the zmey said. “Gorynych needs mother’s milk…”

“I must train in my classes, and fill my hoard with new gold,” Vainqueur reminded Knight Kia of the purpose of life. “Now, announce my presence.”

“Like what, a herald?” Knight Kia asked, showing her lack of minionship.

“My chief of staff always announces my great and magnanimous presence to primitive natives,” Vainqueur told the uncultured biped, already regretting taking her on this trip. "Tell them that I bring them dragon civilization."

“Ah, alright,” the knight said, quickly casting the translation spell on both herself and the best dragon of all. “Oyé Oyé, brave citizens, we come to help!”

“For money!” Vainqueur reminded her, the manling making a face. “And tell them to bring me their cattle!”

The door of the rounded houses opened, a manling-sized black cobra slithering out. Vainqueur recognized it as a serpent beastkin, or naga; one wearing a red scarf around his mouth. “What is all this racket?” the naga hissed, before noticing Vainqueur and the paralyzed Gorynych. “Oh, another dragon adventurer party. Great. Look, if you come for cows, I will have to politely ask you to leave and never return.”

[Alpha Magnetism (Scales)] negated by [REDACTED].

“Is this the village of Dhanyakuria?” Knight Kia asked, having been in charge of mapping out the trip; the naga nodded, quickly as eager to be done with her as Vainqueur himself. “We are looking for a fomor stronghold in the area. Did you see any sign of fairy activity recently?”

“No, because everyone stays at home,” the naga replied. “We haven’t heard anything from nearby villages for a while, but I can’t tell if this is a fairy’s or the plague’s doing.”

“Can you give us the direction of these villages—”

“Minion Kia, you are losing sight of what truly matters,” Vainqueur walked towards the naga, getting exhausted at the knight’s incompetence. “I have time for a short quest.”

“Quests? Nobody is questing with this bloody plague! All the adventurer guilds are closed and our economy is ruined!” the naga hissed while wagging its tail. “And respect my safety space!”

“You have nothing to fear,” Kia said. “I have immunity to [Disease], and as a [Paladin], I can cure it at will.”

“A [Paladin]?” The naga instantly turned towards Kia, observing her with such intensity that it made the manling uneasy. “Which deity?”

“Mithras,” she replied, the naga wagging his tail in excitement.

“That changes everything! Yes, I may have a quest for you!” The naga cleared his throat. “Our architect guild is running its yearly building competition. A team must visit and rate our designs, but they need to include an [Paladin] of Mithras or Leone. With all healers mobilized to deal with the [Fairy Plague] and the social distancing, we can’t find anyone fitting our criteria.”

“Why would you need a [Paladin] for an architecture competition?” Kia asked with a frown.

“Because [Paladins] of these gods are compelled to say the truth and to act with chivalry,” the beastkin replied. “So we can trust them to give their honest opinion. Since we can’t restrict the competition to only one class, their partners can be anyone or anything.”

“How much and how long?” the dragon asked the hard questions. “I am the best adventurer in the world with the highest rates, and we are short on time.”

“One million gold if you win the competition,” Vainqueur salivated, only for the next words to crush his hopes, “But it may take a few days.”

Argh, too long! “You will have to wait until after I burn the fairy farm for your winner.”

“And I won’t take that quest,” Knight Kia said, whose lack of greed marked her as unworthy of minionship. “I have no need for gold.”

“Winners also receive a powerful magical item from our guild’s divine patron,” the Naga said, “Some even received a [Heroic Crest].”

“Why would someone receive a [Heroic Crest] for an architecture competition—”

“Less questions, more gold,” Vainqueur interrupted, finding her lack of enthusiasm for hoarding aggravating. What did Manling Victor see in her? She lacked any true dragon value!

“Don’t you see this quest is fishy, Your Majesty?” Knight Kia asked. “When someone offers a quest with a reward that high, he is either mistaken or treacherous.”

“If you doubt my words, then simply cast magic on me,” the naga said. “I have nothing to hide.”

“I said I would stop profiling, but I will make an exception then; [Enhanced Karma Scan],” Kia cast a spell, reading the Naga’s karma. A smile quickly spread on her face. “Moderately good and orderly… that’s refreshing after almost so long in Murmurin, I had forgotten people like that existed.”

“Where can I find the gold when I have the time to claim it?” Vainqueur asked, now that this part was settled.

“First, vow to participate and give it your all first,” the snake insisted. “Our divine patron really insists on that part.”

“Certainly, I swear to win,” Vainqueur shrugged.

“I swear on my honor,” Kia replied, “if Shesha needs reassurance.”

“Oh, my guild doesn’t worship Shesha,” the naga replied. “She tolerates us because of the business opportunities our dungeons provide, but our adventurer death ratio is a bit too high for her taste.”

The [Paladin] blinked. “Did you say dungeons?”

“Yes, dungeons. I am a [Dungeon Architect] and [Trap Master]. What, you thought trapped tombs grow on trees? Who do you think designs all those snake pits and secret passages? Nobody ever respects our hard work.”

“Do not remind me,” Vainqueur said. “When I order them to build arenas and more towers for my castle, it is a constant struggle to direct my minions. Alas, their minds cannot grasp my peerless, visionary design.”

“So the contest would be a… a dungeon architecture competition?” Knight Kia drew her sword. “Wait, which deity would sponsor a guild like that?”

The naga looked at her strangely. “I find your attempts to have me confess my faith an attack on my religious freedom.”

“But you just asked which god I served—”

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I have to tell you. What if I worshiped Seng? Would you treat me differently?”

Yes,” Knight Kia replied ominously.

“My point exactly.”

“I care not which ‘deity’ you became the minion of,” Vainqueur said. “Where is the gold?”

“Do you have a map and a feather?” Knight Kia reluctantly handed the naga one, the serpent struggling to scribble a small cross on it. “Damn twolegs, can’t make a map adapted to armless people… now if you excuse me, I have to flee from the germs.”

“Your Majesty, are we really going to do this?” Knight Kia asked, glaring at the snake as he returned home.

“Yes, but after I burn the fairy farm first,” Vainqueur replied. One million gold coins would more than help crush Icefang’s delusions of wealth.

Speaking of Icefang… the dragon hummed the wind to pick up his rival’s smell, in case he had managed to sneak up ahead of him.

Skill check successful.

 

Vainqueur froze.

“What?” Knight Kia asked.

“I smell…” Vainqueur couldn’t believe it. “Dragon blood?”

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Void Herald

Bio: I'm a European warlock living in the distant realm known as France, spending half my time writing and the other half managing magical websites.

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