Chapter 4: Chief of Staff

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When the marquise had invited Victor to a private breakfast in her apartments, Victor had expected everything but an actual breakfast. Maybe a poisoned meal, or being made into the breakfast, or maybe fed to a lion. Not an actual, pleasant breakfast with the lady of the house and the Count of Provencal. 

Of course, she had four knights ready to chop his head off at any moment, alongside a few catkin butlers, but he was thankful for the meal all the same. It had been a while since he last ate beef and cooked vegetables with a fork. 

Thankfully, he didn’t taste any poison in the meal. He guessed yesterday’s fiasco taught them a lesson. 

“This is humiliating,” the marquise said, lounging in a mink chair while petting a winged lion in one hand and sipping a glass of wine with the other. Victor guessed she had taken more than a few drinks. “A red dragon empties our pantry and then decides to take a nap at my front door. Why did Mithras send this calamity? Is he still there?” 

“Yes, my lady,” an armored knight in full plate armor replied, glancing through the window. “He is resting on his back, with a hand on his belly. The poison should have killed him thrice over by now.”

“Why did you have so much poison on hand in the first place?” Victor asked, too curious for his own good. 

“Intense war politics,” the marquise replied without giving more of an explanation, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. “I cannot take this anymore! Someone groom me!” 

One of the catkin attendants, a thin, frail, humanoid cat wearing butler clothes, groomed the back of the marquise’s ears with a paw, soothing her. “Victor, is it?” she asked him suddenly. “What is your level?”

“I’m level seven, madam.” Five levels in Outlaw, two in Monster Squire.

“A level seven taming a dragon?” She sneered at him with resentment. “I do not believe you.”

“Do I look like a dragon tamer to you?” Victor replied with a sneer of his own. 

“He listens to you,” the Count of Provencal said, having removed his sweat with a now wet handkerchief. “You saved my life.”

“Listens is a bit exaggerated. That creature is a goddamn wrecking ball, all I can do is try to steer him in one direction and hope he doesn’t burn too many houses.”

“We could mount a surprise attack while he sleeps,” a guard proposed. 

“Yeah right, try to kill the invincible dragon who ignores arrows and thinks your best poison is pepper. Maybe you will give him a better perk this time.” As he drew glares from the nobles and their guards, Victor cursed his tongue. When he had noticed Vainqueur didn’t understand sarcasm, the adventurer could no longer help himself. It helped relieve the stress of dealing with the wyrm. 

“Use another tone with your better, ruffian!” one of the guards spoke up, barely restraining himself from hitting him in the face with his iron gauntlet. His mistress interrupted him with a mere gaze.

“Where do you come from?” the marquise asked Victor. “Your accent is not Gardemagnian. It sounds vaguely Prydanian.”

Her tone told Victor this wasn’t a good thing to flaunt. The Fomors of Prydain had shed much blood in their attempted conquest of Gardemagne, and their Wild Hunt still attacked ships approaching their island. “I come from America,” Vic admitted, before adding, “Earth.”

“A Claimed,” the marquise nodded. “Show me.”

Victor pulled back the sleeve on his left arm, revealing a crimson, shining tattoo representing a twenty-faced dice. “The mark of Dice,” the Marquise recognized. “I should have known only a chosen of the luck god could befriend a dragon.” 

Some luck. This world sucked. It was full of brigands, man-eating monsters, dragons, oh, and stuck in the Middle Ages! He hadn’t been able to take a hot bath for months! All because he saved some girl he had a crush on from getting mugged, only to be stabbed and left to bleed in an alley. And if death hadn’t hurt enough, getting forced to join a band of outlaws to survive right afterward had been just as harrowing. 

But he understood where that comment came from. People from Earth reincarnating in Outremonde after being branded by the local gods were a known occurrence, and most sported unique perks allowing them to make a life for themselves. The phenomenon even caused the rise of a new religion, the Esoteric Order of the New World. 

But Victor didn’t care about becoming a hero or a local curiosity. He just wanted to survive, get laid, and return home.

Also, befriend? Victor would have run away if he could. Unfortunately, the dragon would probably track him down in no time, that beast had keen senses. “Look, lady, I’ll try to lure him off your lands, but I don’t promise anything. Just don’t try to steal his stuff again, okay?”

“My lady, why did you ask for this rapier in the first place?” the Count of Provencal asked. 

“This is a family heirloom,” the marquise replied. “My ancestor, according to legends, befriended a manling adventurer and tricked a King of Gardemagne into giving the boy his daughter’s hand. As a reward, the manling gave my ancestor his prized rapier and the marquisate of Carabas. Catkins ruled Carabas ever since.”

Ah, that explained all the felines running around.

“Looters stole that rapier from my great grandfather’s corpse during the Century War, but I had no idea it ended in the claws of a red dragon,” the marquise said, a maid refilling her glass. “I did not know one befouled the country, let alone Vainqueur Knightsbane.”

“He’s got a reputation?” Victor asked, eager to know more about the wyrm. 

“He was the bane of Midgard for centuries, before vanishing fifty years ago,” the Count of Provencal said. “Legends say he fought a Wild Hunt party single-handedly and traded blows with a level sixty-seven elf knight.”

From what Victor had heard, only the now legendary Shining Knight approached that level. Which meant the dragon might as well be invincible. “Yeah, and now he has taken two levels in Noble.”

The marquise and the count exchanged worried glances. After all, like most aristocrats, they probably had levels in that class too. “A red dragon should not have access to a Rogue Class,” the marquise stated. “How did this happen?”

Victor wisely decided not to mention his own responsibility. “No idea. He was already like that when I found him. Now he’s set on becoming an adventurer because it pays well, and it’s easy for him. Look at the forest.”

“The monsters of Gevaudan plagued the regions for ages, especially with the chaos of the Century War,” one of the knights said. “To destroy the entire area in minutes…”

Louise de Carabas nodded. “While the loss of my pantry is devastating, the economic gains do outweigh it. We might as well make use of the dragon’s current fancy. If he wants to be an adventurer, we could send him on a fool’s errand.”

“My lady, you cannot be serious!” the count protested. “A dragon adventurer? What else, a troll prince?”

“The creature is toying with us,” a guard agreed, clenching his fists. “How long until its natural instincts reassert themselves?”

“We could offer him a doomed request, like attacking the Fomors of Prydain or the demon lord Brandon Maure,” the marquise ignored her advisers, her butlers moving to groom her back. “Either he will succeed and do the world a favor, or fail and get killed.”

“Er, the lizard won’t move unless there’s a significant reward,” Victor said, although the idea had merits. If the dragon was willing to fight other monsters for a price, then maybe he could steer him towards a better purpose. “You better be ready to deliver if he succeeds.”

The marquise frowned, probably lacking the funds to assuage Vainqueur. “No matter,” the marquise said. “My court’s Wizard sent messages to His Majesty King Charles Gardemagne and the Shining Knight, who will dispatch their best warriors after him. After the news spread, this dragon’s days are numbered. ”

Victor doubted they would amount to much. Vainqueur’s family name was Knightsbane after all. 

But what should he do? Lure Vainqueur to his death, hoping an adventurer would get lucky? His gut told him it wouldn’t work. No, Victor was stuck with the dragon for now, and from what he had seen he would better work with or around him than against.

The adventurer decided the best option was to make use of the dragon’s fancy, as the marquise suggested. Even with the war’s end, the kingdom of Gardemagne remained plagued by troublemakers, who killed people right now, instead of retreating to an island far away like the Fomors. 

He might also make a nice profit out of this mess. He had gotten two levels in less than one day, after struggling for months to level up in his Outlaw class. Being around a dragon killing strong opponents he himself couldn’t take on helped him level up faster. If he reached a high enough level while guiding and studying the dragon up close, maybe Victor could escape his grasp one day. 

“Are there any troublemakers that need death by dragonfire?” Victor asked, drawing gazes at him, “This is a gamble, but if I aim him at dangerous enemies, maybe one will get lucky and kill him.” 

That greedy Vainqueur would never let him keep anything shiny, but if he managed to grab a noble title or magical items while at it…

“The main threats to Gardemagne’s peace are the Scorchers, roving bandits and mercenary bands ravaging the countryside since the end of the Century War,” the Count said. “Bands led by the kind of Ogron the Ogre, Gustave La Muraille, and François Vilmain are causing trouble in the south-west. Duchess Aelinor issued bounties on their heads.”

“They are no match for a dragon, Gilbert,” the marquise said. “Even Ogron is only level thirty-five or so, and while the duchess put a bounty on the Scorchers’ leaders, they are low. Will they motivate a dragon?”

“Do you have the bounties on hands?” Victor guessed he would just guide Vainqueur towards that kraken. Considering the reward, he would have no trouble convincing the dragon. But it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the other options. 

“Minion?” Victor winced, as Vainqueur’s voice made the walls tremble. “Minion?! MINION!”

Vic sighed. Duty called. “Do you happen to have a large bag?” he asked the nobles. “And maybe a potion of fire resistance?”

“Have you not asked enough already?!” a knight lambasted him, the winged lion growling at his outburst. 

“Otherwise, I tell him you have a hidden pantry under your tower,” Victor replied, annoyed. “Your choice.”

The marquise waved a hand in annoyance. “Fetch him what he wants, so long as they leave.”

Victor figured babysitting a dragon had its perks. 

“That feast was great,” Vainqueur told Victor, as the poor adventurer returned from the ash-filled ruins of the Woods of Gevaudan, a scarf turned into an improvised gas mask to breath through the ashes and carrying a bag full of items. “We should come back one day.”

Victor doubted the marquise would appreciate. “We, Your Majesty?” 

“Minion, you are my official guide.” Apparently, Victor had gotten yet another promotion. “You take care of the trip, I take care of the food. Now, what have you found?”

“Quite a lot, actually. That Old Money perk is goddamn useful.” Especially when used during a total massacre. No wonder the nobles managed to live the high life. “A Ring of Fire Resistance, a Horn of Wyvern Calling, a golden statuette of Mithras, a Firebomb Necklace, a pair of Solar Bracers and a lot of gold pieces I couldn’t count, probably twenty thousand.”

Since the dragon’s attack had burned everything, melting even the trolls’ metal armors and swords he had found, the Old Money perk had probably materialized these rewards from nothing. “You sound like an expert retriever, minion. I did not know this.”

“That’s thanks to my Eye for Treasure,” Victor replied. “It’s a class skill that allows me to identify items and their value.” Fabulous for thieves.

“What about this Lesser Poison Resistance perk I received yesterday? You said I could only get one every two levels.”

“Yes, for class perks. There are two categories of perks, class perks and personal perks. The first are obtained by leveling up, the others by fitting specific criteria, like eating too much poison. I heard it’s very rare to get it this way.”

“Who else but a dragon to unlock it?” Vainqueur declared proudly. “Put the treasure with the rest. We return to my hoard, and then we go…” The dragon left the sentence hanging. 

“Hunt the kraken of Messaline, Your Majesty?” Victor suggested.

“Hunt the sixty thousand coins squid, my thought exactly, minion.” 

“About that, Your Majesty,” Victor cleared his throat, putting his increased charisma to work, “I only survived the trip thanks to a potion of fire resistance the marquise gave me. What use to you have of that ring or the bracers?”

“They are shiny, and they will look good in my hoard.”

“I’m just saying, I would perform my duties better with good equipment, Your Majesty.” Especially if he had him search for items in ash-covered ruins every week. “At worse, you could recover your loaned treasures from my corpse if I die in the line of duty.”

“What equipment?” Vainqueur sounded more surprised by the suggestion than anything. “You will not look better with bracers or a ring. All manlings look the same.”

Outside of the condescending remark, the reaction surprised the outlaw. “Yes, but the ring will make me resistant to fire, the horn can help me summon a wyvern in a pinch, and the bracers increase my strength under the sun. Only the necklace is more trouble than it is worth, and the statuette has no effect besides looking shiny.”

Vainqueur gave him a confused look. “You can get stronger by wearing bracers?” 

It suddenly occurred to Victor a giant dragon probably never used a single magic item in his entire life. Because he never needed them. And unfortunately, while uninformed and not that sharp, Vainqueur remained bright enough to put the two and two together. “Minion, are you telling me that you also became resistant to fire by drinking a potion?”

… he just taught the dragon how to use magic items. Right Victor, smooth move, no way it won’t backfire. “Yes, Your Majesty, I did. For a time.”

“Marvelous! And the bracers give strength? I will try them at once!”

“They’re human-sized so they won’t fit,” the adventurer pointed out the obvious. Which, considering the dragon’s item drop, may only a matter of time before they find one. 

“Oh.” The lizard did not hide his disappointment, before becoming angry. “Why does my skill brought me human-sized treasure? This is sabotage! A malfunction!”

“Maybe it was never meant to work with dragons, Your Majesty.”

“Exactly, a malfunction.” Thankfully, unable to wear the items, Vainqueur considered Victor’s offer. “Fine, minion, I agree to loan you items you can wear. No need to thank me, my generosity knows no bounds.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Victor replied, smiling inwardly. With time, he could build a hoard of his own and get out of that beast’s grasp. 

“That Eye for Treasure skill, how can I get it?” Vainqueur asked, awfully curious. “Does it come from your Monster Squire class?”

“No, that’s from my first class, Out—” Victor stopped himself, as he realized his mistake.

“You can be two classes at once?” Vainqueur caught on. “How many?”

At this point, Victor just gave up on trying to hide anything. The dragon just latched on every slip up of his, and he might as well just push him in a direction he could steer. “As many as you can achieve. The level cap is one hundred in total though. Afterward you become a god and ascend to heaven. I don’t think anyone alive today reached level eighty, though.”

“Then I, Vainqueur, will reach level one hundred!” the dragon boasted with enthusiasm, “And you, minion, will reach ninety-nine!”

That’s the spirit, scalie, Victor thought, as he took a moment to read both the request for the Kraken of Messaline and that for the Scorchers. 

According to the request, the kraken was a beast that disrupted a sea trade route to Barin, a merchant empire that allied with Gardemagne during the last third of the century war. The beast’s territory prevented ships from passing through it, and while locals had gotten used to getting around the animal’s den, merchants offered a sizable reward to get rid of it. Left undisturbed, the kraken didn’t bother anyone.

The Scorchers, not so much. 

As it turned out, the bounty listed the crimes of three leaders of these warbands, and looking at it made Victor sick. It was basically an endless litany of murders, abductions, arsons, and other war crimes perpetrated on the helpless peasantry. 

‘Gustave La Muraille,’ Victor read the wanted poster of a knight with a black, horned helmet, ‘Twenty levels in Knight, four levels in Heavy Knight, three levels in Turncoat, total level twenty-seven. A human deserter from the Gardemagnian army leading a warband of twenty soldiers; wanted for the sack of the Poustagniac village and the massacre of its eighty-seven inhabitants. Duchess Aelinor of Euskal offers five thousand gold coins for his head.’

The other two were just as terrible. Ogron the Ogre was a high-level cyclops with a triple-digit body count, and François Vilmain a corrupt priest from the defunct Harmonian League turned highwayman. Aelinor offered ten thousand gold coins for Ogron, and five thousand for Vilmain. 

Only a third of the reward from the kraken, combined. But they shed a lot more innocent blood. 

Victor wisely left that argument out, as he turned to Vainqueur. “Your Majesty, about that kraken, I think I have found a better request than the kraken. Three bandits.”

“How much?” Vainqueur asked greedily. 

“Twenty thousand, officially.”

“Minion, twenty thrice makes sixty,” Vainqueur brushed him off, before glancing down on his unwilling companion, “Why do you mean by, officially?”

Time to put these charisma points to the test. “They are enemies of the great and beautiful Duchess Aelinor, who will be very grateful if we get rid of them. I’m sure she will give you a much greater reward under the table.”

“Why under the table? Is it a magic ritual?”

“Ah, no, it’s uh, a metaphor, Your Majesty. Meaning that she will offer us a much greater reward that is not mentioned in the bounty.”

“If she is willing to offer more, why didn’t she put it in the request?” Vainqueur found the hole in his logic.

“Because of royal taxes,” Victor improvised. “The king takes a tenth of rewards offered through the Adventurer Guild, and that doesn’t include the guild’s own five percent fee.” Which was true, unfortunately. 

“A tenth?” Vainqueur looked ready to choke. “That is theft! No wonder you turned outlaw, your puny race is led by a robber!”

“Indeed, Your Majesty,” Victor said. “Hence why she offers the real reward outside the guild, so it does not get taxed. Avoiding taxes is an ancient, respected human tradition.”

“A noble endeavor,” Vainqueur scratched the back of a horn with his claw. “Aelinor, is she a princess?” 

Victor had frankly no idea. He didn’t even know how she looked. She could be a hag for all he knew. “Maybe.”

The prospect delighted the dragon. “Minion, we will hunt your thieving kind at once.”

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