Vainqueur the Dragon, great calamity of his age, stirred as he awakened from his sleep.
This sixty-foot long beast of legends, with scales more radiant than molten rubies and great jet black wings, yawned as he stretched his body, pushing away some of the gold and jewels of his hard-won hoard. How good, he thought, his golden eyes opening and acclimating to the darkness of his cave, to rest on the wages of victory after a feast. He could spend another half a century here if he didn’t feel the urge to eat some cattle this morning.
Vainqueur slowly stretched his mighty neck until his crown of horns scraped against the stone ceiling. He surveyed his cave deep within the southern mountains of Albain, marveling at the beauty of his shining conquests. A bed of rubies, diamonds and gold coins, looted from beastkins, mermaids, the retinue of an elven princess, and the corpses of armored manlings foolish enough to challenge him. A good hoard, but a small one; one he promised himself to double in size before going back to hibernation.
Maybe he should raid the dwarves next? He had heard they collected enough gems to fill underground vaults.
And here, on his left, one of his trusty, dutiful goblin minions cleaned up a silver rapier, one of the finest items of his treasures. It was a tall goblin, with smooth skin, a dirtied hood and a terrified expression as Vainqueur watched him...
That was no goblin, but a human. A manling.
Vainqueur suddenly blinked in realization, and so did the manling who just realized he had woken up a dragon.
"A thief!" Moved to action by a flash of fury, Vainqueur roared and attempted to crush the manling with his upper arm, the terrified rogue jumping with the rapier to the side before he could make a dash to the exit. Vainqueur kept attempting to stomp the manling like a fruit, but the cloaked one had good reflexes.
No matter, the cave was too small, and the exit on the other side. The dragon quickly cornered the robber, trapping him between a wall and himself. The manling held the rapier as a desperate weapon, but only the threat of melting his treasure prevented Vainqueur from burning that treacherous animal to cinders.
Vainqueur quickly scanned his hoard with a glance, sighing in relief upon finding no missing piece. He had caught the thief right in the act.
"I swear it," Vainqueur cursed in dragonian. "You take a quick nap for fifty years—fifty years—and everyone forgets the food chain."
Even setting up his lair in the tallest mountain known to western dragonkind hadn’t discouraged thieves.
And where were these damn goblins he had allowed to live in exchange for keeping watch? Did they run? Or did the thief kill them? Why was it so hard to find good help nowadays?
No matter. He would eat this fool and then raid the nearby villages for cattle; that would teach the manlings not to bother him again. "My sweet food," he told the thief in the manling’s tongue, "What is your name?"
The manling’s hideously small eyes bulged beneath the hood. "You can speak?"
"Yes, yes, sometimes I talk to my breakfast." Or to maidens he abducted back in his younger years. "Answer me manling, before I lose patience."
"I, uh…" The human trembled at Vainqueur’s amazing majesty. "Victor, sir…"
"Vainqueur Knightsbane, First of his Name, Great Calamity of this Age and King of the Albain Mountains. But you may call me Your Majesty."
"With a capital M," Vainqueur corrected his insolent food. "I can tell the difference."
"Your Majesty, I swear this is a mistake!"
"I do not think so, manling. Now, tell me, because I truly want to know. What made you think trying to steal from me was ever a good idea?"
The manling narrowed his eyes in recognition of his stupidity. Vainqueur knew little of manlings, but this one sounded young, barely an adult. "I swear," he said. "I didn’t know this mountain was yours. Someone hired me to recover that rapier, and that was all! It was thought lost, not yours."
"Liar!" Vainqueur roared, his voice causing the ceiling to tremble, "You must have fought past an army of goblins to get there!"
"There… there’s been no goblin activity in the mountains for decades, Your Majesty. They fled Barsino’s great march through the Albain mountains twenty years ago."
What? Vainqueur hummed deeply, trying to smell goblin stench. His sharp senses didn’t pick any, not even the faintest hint. The manling was right, no goblin had guarded his lair for ten years at least.
"Those moronic cowards, fleeing the very second I take a nap?" Vainqueur cursed in dragonian, the manling unable to understand the brilliant elder tongue. The dragon deigned to return to the creature’s primitive language. "Do you have minions, manling Victor?"
"Minions?" Understanding the dragon would let him live so long as he answered, manling Victor answered. "I had a party once, but it didn’t work out. Like I was the only professional with ambition beyond petty theft."
"Finding good help is hard everywhere," Vainqueur ranted to his audience. "I advise you never to hire goblins, even if you will not live long enough to. I will spare you this mistake."
"Wait, wait!" The manling panicked. "They will send someone else, even if you kill me! No one knows Your Majesty lives in these mountains!"
"They will, once I burn the countryside to cinders," Vainqueur replied, although the manling indeed piqued his curiosity. "But I am curious, who sent you? I will eat them after you."
"I don’t know! It was an anonymous request in the guildhall of a town nearby," manling Victor said, "The reward was one thousand gold coins."
"A nice sum for such a dirty deed," Vainqueur condemned him, vowing to search for these coins once he had tracked down the mastermind as payback.
"Yes, but I mostly took it for the challenge," the manling admitted. "I thought I would gain a few levels out of it. Maybe even a special Perk from the climbing."
"Levels?" What was that, some kind of cattle food? That interested Vainqueur. "What is that?"
"You, you don’t…" The manling shut his mouth. "How to explain… levels are powers you gain in a class, like Knight or Wizard or Outlaw, and which grant you extra power called Perks. You gain levels through work, experience, or killing stuff. I thought I would gain at least one or two."
What rubbish was that? "You cannot even begin to fathom the number of thieves I slew, manling Victor, and I never received any of these, ‘levels’."
"Maybe you just didn’t know," the manling pleaded for his miserable life.
That was stupid. Class? Like what, a thief? He was a great red dragon, the king of the mountains, the apex of creation! Surely the mighty dragonkind would have unlocked such a power long ago if it existed!
What? Vainqueur thought, as words appeared right before his eyes.
Through your sheer ego and noble dragon bloodline, you gained a level in the [Noble] class!
+30 HP, +10SP, +1 STR, +1 AGI, +1 CHA, +1 LCK!
You gained the [Old Money] class perk!
What was this witchery? Math magic? The sight puzzled Vainqueur. "Old Money?" he said out loud, much to manling Victor’s confusion.
[Old Money]: double the chances of monsters dropping treasure after death.
Ah. Nice. "Manling Victor," the dragon asked his food. "Do you self-identify as a monster?"
"Of course not!" the manling replied, and it didn’t sound like a bluff, "Monsters are goblins or trolls or… or..."
"Or dragons?" Vainqueur finished the sentence, amused. Well, if that ‘perk’ worked on that damn, arrogant frost dragon Icefang in the northern lands, he might just triple the size of his hoard. The dragon narrowed his head until it was within an inch of the thief, who tried to present a strong face. "Take off your hood and cloak, manling, slowly. Look at me in the eye."
The manling did so, revealing his face. As Vainqueur had guessed, this was a young adult manling, with disgusting short black hair instead of mighty horns; how could these animals live with them Vainqueur would never understand. Still, the dragon liked the fear and the hint of low cunning in these small, amber eyes. The would-be thief also carried two metal toothpicks around his belt, not worth adding to his hoard.
That manling was no goblin, but it would make a nice substitute. "Manling Victor."
"Yes, Your Majesty?"
"Put the rapier back where you found it. You will lead me straight to this ‘Guildhall’ so I may see this request for myself. Since I am short on goblins right now, you will be my new minion until you pay back your life debt to me."
The manling couldn’t believe the great honor bestowed upon him and thought himself undeserving of it. "I am wholly unsuited for this role, Your Majesty."
"I am a dragon," Vainqueur reminded the manling of this timeless wisdom. "You are now my minion."
The manling said nothing for a short while, before gracefully accepting his new role, "It is a great honor, Your Majesty."
"Very good. There is a great reward in doing as I wish. Namely, living. Any other dragon would have eaten you for your sinful crime and would never have taken a manling in their service, but I am forgiving and merciful."
"This is very generous of you, Your Majesty."
"I know, manling. Now, tell me more about these Perks..."