“Finally!” Vainqueur rejoiced upon reaching the coast and seeing the ocean. “At long last!”
After days of flying nonstop through the desert, the sight of clear water filled him with boundless joy. Watching the sun setting on the water had never felt so pleasurable.
“This is the inner sea east of the V&V Empire,” Manling Victor said, riding Gorynych with Knight Kia behind his back. “We’re almost home.”
“Is Your Majesty sure they do not want to tackle that dungeon quest yet?” Knight Kia asked, a bit disappointed. “While definitively fishy, we need more levels and magic items.”
“My hoard calls me,” Vainqueur said. This journey had exhausted him, especially the last stretch. “I may be a tireless, beautiful dragon, but I need to feel the warmth of my gold under my claws.”
Also, the hoards of Icefang and his crew were left unattended. If they had no next of kin to claim them, then he would recover them himself. A rival’s memory should never get in the way of profit.
“I say we should do as many difficult quests as possible,” Knight Kia argued. “Maybe look for artifacts like the legendary [Plot Armor]. Wouldn’t that help against Odieuse?”
“You are surprisingly enthusiastic today,” Manling Victor said. “You’re usually more… I dunno, nonchalant?”
“Remember what I told you in Daltonia?” Knight Kia asked, the chief of staff nodding. “I finally have a purpose again, and I’ve never felt more pumped. I could clear dungeons all by myself!”
“Well, since I can cast eighth-tier spells now, I can finally learn decent teleportation spells,” Manling Victor said. “We can easily do this quest after putting our more important affairs in order.”
“Indeed, since a Dragon Conclave’s buffet is the organizer’s responsibility,” Vainqueur explained, Manling Victor’s skin turning white. “Minion, you fed everyone in time for my Bragging Day while I ruled a desert, instead of the verdant minion utopia it is today. You can manage.”
“I think Your Majesty is a bit optimistic, but… well, we have a teleportation network and a Tarasque food supply now. I’ve also received a [Scarlet Study] report telling me that the Agarthans successfully transported the beast to the Dodocare.”
Knight Kia made a strange face. “Can a Tarasque reproduce with dodos?”
“Yes!” Vainqueur nodded.
“No,” Manling Victor replied, ever pessimistic. “Or at least, if they can, I pray that I never see the deed in action.”
Speaking of a buffet made Vainqueur even hungrier. “I demand a feast of cattle!”
“Gorynych hungry too,” the zmey complained. “Gorynych hungry enough to eat himself!”
“There’s a Nagastan trading post nearby,” Manling Victor said, pointing west. “We can resupply there.”
“They have colonies that far west?” Knight Kia asked, crossing her arms. “I would have thought that Barin would have assimilated the area already.”
“Nagastan managed to establish a trading route through the dusted remnants of the Sablaris Empire,” Manling Victor said. “From what I understood, it causes tensions with the local powers like the Eversun Empire, who interpret these trading posts as prelude to military expansion. I suppose the plague probably delayed a full-out conflict in the region.”
Vainqueur cared nothing for manlings' squabbling, and neither did his stomach. “Friend Victor, find me a cow soon or we shall call upon Knight Kia’s service.”
“I don’t think she can summon any food,” his chief of staff said.
“She is a minion,” Vainqueur reminded Manling Victor of the food chain. “If we do not find food soon, we will have to make a sacrifice to avoid starvation.” Since she was the least valuable minion of the group, he would rather start with her than with Gorynych.
“What does that mean?” Knight Kia asked, oblivious to her duty. “Victor, what does he mean?”
“Oh, nothing!” Manling Victor replied hastily. “Let’s just find that trading post!”
Thankfully for the [Paladin], it didn’t take long to locate it. The owners had built a large brick house on a cliff, near a sandy road and a pen full of goats. The place could probably welcome dozens of manlings, but lacked any dragon accommodations.
Was it too much to ask for a lava bath?
After everyone landed, startling the goats, his minions climbed down from Gorynych before knocking on the door. A decomposing ghoul with a rounded hat opened the door, immediately noticing Vainqueur. “Oh, two dragons at once!” he said with a gruff voice. “That’s a first.”
“Where is the other?” Vainqueur glanced around, ignoring Gorynych.
“Have you come for healing?” the innkeeper asked. “If so, please fill out your afflictions in our document.”
“Wait, I recognize this voice,” Knight Kia muttered, “Nestor?”
The ghoul squinted, before quickly recognizing the [Paladin]. “Lady Kia? Is that you?”
“Nestor, you crusty old ghoul, it’s been years!” Knight Kia smiled at the undead. “How have you been?”
“You know him?” Manling Victor asked,
“He was a crusader back when I fought during the Century War,” Kia said. “Best archer I ever knew!”
“That feels like a lifetime ago,” the ghoul said, before whistling at Vainqueur. “Then, you must be the famous V&V Adventurer Company!”
“Certainly, the words of my deeds pale before my magnificence!” the emperor boasted proudly.
“Well, either they say you’re heroic champions of freedom, or a greedy warlord bent on conquering countries for a nickel. It’s odd, it’s always one extreme or another. Sorry I didn’t welcome you properly, the place is a mess.”
“What are you doing here in the middle of the desert?” Knight Kia asked him, perhaps hoping to get a discount. "I haven't seen you since the last battle with King Balaur."
“I retired from adventuring, and Nagastan’s naga lords pay me a small fortune to maintain this trading post,” the undead replied. “I mostly service the few adventurers or merchants brave enough to cross the desert.”
“Wait, you’re a ghoul, a carrion eater,” Manling Victor stated the obvious. “How do you feed in the middle of nowhere?”
“Let’s just say I don’t accept tabs,” the ghoul replied with a crooked smile. “In your case though, since you got Lady Kia on your side, your stay is free. There are sick people in most of my beds though; infected merchants I’m trying to keep alive.”
“You are a healer?” Manling Victor asked.
“I am a capped [Innkeeper]. Thanks to my class and personal Perks, my inn can heal almost anything. HP, SP, status effects, petrification, mutilations...”
“Wait, how does that work?” Manling Victor pushed. “We pay for a bed and we grow back arms?”
“You need to pay for a bed and have eight hours of sleep in it, and you’re healed at the end of the stay,” the ghoul explained. “With the plague going on, I have become the de facto hospital.”
“Can you cure dwarf addiction?” Vainqueur’s head perked up. “Asking for a minion.”
The ghoul made a strange noise, before disappointing the dragon. “I can’t cure either addictions nor the rare [Stockholm Syndrome] disease. I can heal [Enthrall] though.”
“You can cure total mind-control, but not alcoholism?” Knight Kia squinted.
“I don’t make the rules, Lady Kia. Anyway, that nasty plague resists magical healing, even my own perks. But since I can refresh everybody’s HP every eight hours, at least I can keep the sick alive until we find a cure.”
“I will cast [Full Heal] on them,” the [Paladin] offered, but much to Vainqueur’s confusion didn’t ask for a fee first.
“That would help a lot, but please be wary with them milady,” the innkeeper replied. “The infected look normal for days, and then they start spraying infected blood everywhere.”
“Oh, is that how diseases work?” Vainqueur pondered curiously. He had always wondered how that mammal birth defect happened. “Sometimes, I wonder how you minion species managed to survive on your own.”
“Come to think of it, dragons are immune to diseases, and I developed a resistance to them when I leveled up in [Monster Knight],” Manling Victor said. “Maybe there’s something to explore there.”
“So far, even experienced alchemists and healers have yet to find a remedy,” the innkeeper shrugged.
“I have trained under Camilla herself,” Manling Victor replied, the ghoul sneering. “Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t boast about it in the current circumstances, but if anyone can find a cure, it would be me.”
Vainqueur immediately understood his chief of staff’s plan. “And then we sell it for a high price,” the dragon rejoiced. “Brilliant!”
“You want to profit from the misery of the sick?” Knight Kia argued angrily, failing to see the big picture.
“Look at me, manling,” Vainqueur said, staring into the [Paladin]’s eyes. “What would minions say if I, the richest dragon in the world, provided them with a cheap remedy?”
“That you are kind and magnanimous?”
“No, that the remedy is worth nothing!” Vainqueur replied. “Have you even considered the cost? Time Manling Victor spends on it, is time he does not spend attending to my every whim!”
“This discussion can wait until after we find a vaccine,” Manling Victor said, while the innkeeper somehow rolled his rotting eyes.
“I will settle on sleeping in the sand, but I demand a tribute of cows in return,” Vainqueur insisted. “Goats will not do.”
“I'll check if I have beef left in the pantry.”
“Also, Nestor, we’re close to the Tower of Sablar, right?” Knight Kia asked, “I’ve been considering hitting that place up on our way back.”
“The Pyramid,” Vainqueur corrected, still remembering the genie disaster that started there. “I am not sullying my claws there again.”
“You’re a bit late for that,” the ghoul said. “Place has been emptied two weeks ago. Apparently, it still had a crazy mummy and an army of undead at its bottom, but they all left.”
Vainqueur suddenly remembered that his minion once told him that the mummy Akhenapep made his lair at the bottom. “Explain,” the dragon ordered.
“The mummy called upon all the damned Sablar worshipers across the desert to join him. Some stuff about the ‘end is nigh,’ the usual. He even had golems with signboards.”
“Their end is nigh,” Vainqueur said. “That mummy owes me millions.”
“Any idea where they went?” Manling Victor asked, eager to avenge his master’s lost wealth.
“I dunno,” the [Innkeeper] shrugged. “From what I heard they opened magical portals and vanished through. Still, almost every crusader I’m still in contact with moved back to Gardemagne soon afterward. I dunno what’s happening, but I heard the fomors in Prydain are acting up.”
And they should. For their days were numbered.
“Since you’re here, can I get an autograph?” the ghoul asked the group. “I get the feeling that it will cost a fortune in a century.”
“Do not worry about that,” Vainqueur reassured him. “It costs a fortune now.”
Two more days of flying with a full belly, and Vainqueur’s group returned home.
Murmurin had grown even larger since they had left it, mostly thanks to the dwarf portals opened all around the city. Countless new faces had poured into the capital, whether they be goblins from the Teikoku Empire or manling traders from Port Vainqueur. The desert had been pushed further back, golems and sorcerers tending to verdant fields.
Vainqueur let out a roar to announce his triumphant return, the citizens raising their eyes to the skies in response. Cheers and clapping soon echoed across the streets, his minions welcoming their beloved ruler back the proper way.
The dragon moved towards his castle, which had remained unchanged since his departure and first conflict with King Wotan, before making his way into his vault and to his one true love.
“Good to be home,” Vainqueur said, upon resting on his hoard.
His gold reserve had recovered from Untasty Allison’s revival, but it hadn’t grown either. The dragon took solace in the fact that his new colonies would eventually increase its size tenfold; he simply had to wait for the gold to flow.
Congratulations! For completing the first world tour of Outremonde, you and your trusty chief of staff earned the [Magellan] Personal Perk!
[Magellan]: You can teleport to any city or dungeon that you already visited at will.
Manling Victor, Knight Kia, Corpseling Jules, Tasty Malfy, Marbré the Dwarf, and other minion dignitaries joined him in his vault. “Minions,” Vainqueur cleared his throat. “May the empire sing my name in joy, for I return victorious!”
“Indeed,” Corpseling Jules said, examining a pile of papers. “With the new conquests, our resources have increased dramatically. We have already started exploiting Port Vainqueur’s remaining naval infrastructures, extracting the whiskey sea, and established trade treaties with foreign nations. Our monopoly on the first worldwide teleportation network is expected to double our national revenue for the next year.”
“You will be happy to know that your army is prepared, and armed with the safest equipment ever designed,” Marbré added happily.
“What about the Piggybank II?” Vainqueur asked, having mourned the loss of the first to Wotan’s lightning. Never again would he fly across half the world by himself again. The dragon had lost so much fat that he could see his ribs!
“Almost finished,” the dwarf promised.
“And the Orknoob rocket?” Manling Victor asked, much to Vainqueur’s confusion.
“Ready to launch on Samhain,” Corpseling Jules replied. “We are keeping the surprise until the key moment, to avoid a riot from his followers.”
“Wonderful,” Knight Kia said. “Can I oversee the preparations? It’s not very [Paladin], but it has to be done.”
“With pleasure,” Tasty Marbré said. “And you will be happy to know that our guiding system and passenger safety protocols have been tested, tested, tested.”
“There are a few negative points to address though,” Corpseling Jules said. “Namely Heaven. The angels drastically cut down their investments in the empire, and while they still maintain hospitals and schools, Miel's departure is a blow to our administration.”
“Happyland is more than happy to compensate the Empire for this loss,” Malfy said hastily while glancing at Manling Victor. “For we do not forget our heroes.”
Knight Kia made a face but focused on the real threat. “Are we ready to attack Prydain?”
“We can organize a landing on their coasts after Samhain,” Corpseling Jules nodded.
“Then Minions, I have a mission for you,” Vainqueur said while enforcing silence. “You shall spread across all corners of the world, meet with every chief of staff, and have them transmit a message to their dragon masters.”
All his minions readied himself, waiting for him to enlighten them.
“The fairies violated the ancient truce that bound our species; they abducted helpless wyrms to harvest their blood, and escalated to stealing their souls! This cannot stand!”
|[El Presidente] activated!|
“I, Vainqueur Knightsbane, have already declared war on Prydain, but this is no longer about me!” The dragon raised a fist. “The fomors must be taught a lesson, and for that, in the name of the Elder Wyrm, I call upon the first Dragon Conclave since the end of the first Fomor-Dragon war! And there shall not be a third!”
Most of his servants raised their fists, ready to conquer Prydain in dragonkind’s name. “For the Revolution!” the dwarves in attendance shouted.
“Free real estate!” said Malfy.
“And new undead!” Corpseling Jules added.
“For the world!” Knight Kia raised her blade.
Manling Victor clapped and smiled, although he looked strangely bothered.
“And now...” Vainqueur trailed, his minions all waiting for his final words.
The dragon nested on his treasure.
“And now I take a nap.”